Be careful what material you include in your online videos, because Senate Bill 978, known as the “illegal streaming” bill or the “ten strikes” bill, is making its way through the Senate. Already passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill is an attempt to toughen penalties for illegal online use of copyrighted material and fill in gaps in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Currently, illegally streaming a copyrighted piece of audio or video is a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail. The proposed bill, however, would make illegal streaming a felony punishable by up to five years in jail.
When the DMCA was passed in 1998, copying physical media was a problem, now streaming protected material is a bigger concern.
The bill is known as the ten strikes bill because a violator would only incur a penalty if he or she “publicly performed” a copyrighted work 10 or more times within a 180-day period. The violations must be willful infringements.
The bill has aroused substantial anxiety online because of the vagueness of its wording and the stiff penalties that it offers. While it’s likely intended to clamp down on music and movie pirates, as well as those retransmitting major league sports, many are concerned that it will make including copyrighted background music in a homemade videos or uploading karaoke videos a felony.
The group Demand Progress is urging people to sign a letter to their representatives.
“This legislation is a tremendous overreach and I am deeply concerned by the danger it poses to Internet freedom,” the letter reads.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also weighed in, with a commentary written by Abigail Phillips, senior staff attorney.
“As for the individual who believes she is making a fair use of copyrighted work, she’ll want to be pretty confident or hope she can argue other thresholds in the bill are not met. It doesn’t seem likely this is the kind of activity prosecutors will pursue; then again, who wants to take a chance on five years’ jail time?” she wrote.
That seems to be the crux of the concerns over the bill: it defines the crime too broadly. While it’s intended to go after large-scale violations, there’s the danger it could be used to prosecute more innocent offences.
So what can you do? If you’re motivated to try to get the bill killed or modified, sign the Demand Progress letter. More importantly, though, always use copyright-free music in the videos you create for your company. It’s easy to avoid committing an infringement, as there’s plenty of royalty-free music around for purchase. Do that and your videos should be squeaky clean.