Commerce Department Recommends Congress Bring Back A Part Of SOPA


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I think we can all agree that SOPA was no good. The legislation would have done extensive damage to the Internet and free speech all in the name of stopping piracy. One of the more troubling parts of the legislation would have criminalized "unauthorized streaming." It's a good thing SOPA was killed off, right?

SOPA may be dead, but the Department of Commerce's Internet Policy Task Force recently released a report that recommends Congress bring back the part of SOPA that would have made "unauthorized streaming" a felony. Their reasoning is that streaming is just as important as physical media is to content creators so the unauthorized reproduction of the former should be met with the same punishments as the latter. In short, the Commerce Department is saying that streaming an episode of Game of Thrones outside of HBO Go is the same thing as selling a bootleg DVD of Game of Thrones.

You can probably already see why this is a bad idea. Previous bills and provisions that concern online streaming have been so ambiguously worded that they could conceivably be used to punish people who upload YouTube videos of themselves singing over their favorite songs. In fact, one bill - the Commercial Felony Streaming Act - from Sen. Amy Klobuchar met with stiff resistance from none other than Justin Bieber. He famously said that Klobuchar "needs to be locked up" after being told about the bill.

Now, it should be said that it's hard to imagine any piece of legislation being used to go after regular people uploading videos of themselves jamming out to their favorite songs on YouTube. What does raise concern are the people who upload clips from movies and television shows. YouTube already has a competent ContentID matching program in place to remove these unauthorized streams from the service. It's ridiculous to think that some people in Washingon and Hollywood think this isn't enough, and are demanding that these people be thrown behind bars.

What makes this all especially troubling is that the Obama administration, of which the Commerce department is a part of, has effectively flip-flopped on its stance regarding SOPA. In last year's Annual Report on Intellectual Property Enforcement, the administration said that it stood against any legislation that "reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk (including authority to tamper with the DNS system), or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet." I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but cracking down on streaming, even if it's unauthorized, would undermine the "dynamic, innovative global Internet" by making people scared to invest in or use streaming services for fear of being locked up.

Maybe Congress and Hollywood should start seeing the real reason behind unauthorized streaming - a lack of official monetized services. Sure, we have Hulu, Netflix, HBO Go and others, but some of them (i.e. HBO Go) make it incredibly hard to appreciate their efforts since it requires a cable subscription. Consumers need a simple, catch-all service that delivers everything they want. It's worked wonders for the music industry, and now Hollywood has to follow suit.

Besides, how else is Bieber going to watch his favorite UFC fights?

[h/t: Washington Post]