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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

YouTube, YouTrouble

Published: September 9, 2011
Section: Opinions

On May 12, Bill S.978 was passed by the Senate. For those unaware of what this bill encompasses, its purpose is “to amend the criminal penalty provision for criminal infringement of a copyright, and for other purposes.” This bill would essentially make any form of streaming of copyrighted material illegal.

But what does that even mean? Well, for example, I like to watch videos online of video-game reviews to get a good idea of the game before I go to Best Buy and shell out $65. Guess what? That would be illegal. Why? Because that game review contains material being streamed from a copyrighted source.

Oh, don’t worry—the bill gets even better. For breaking this law (if and when it becomes one) you can go to jail for up to five years. At this point, you are probably asking yourself the same thing I asked myself: I can go to jail for watching YouTube? According to this bill, the answer would be yes.

Let’s be serious; the reality of this bill is that, if you watch too many streamed videos (and by “too many” I mean 10) you can go to jail. That’s right—permanent record, check the box “criminal record” on job applications, all those “don’t drop the soap” jokes, the works. Realistically, if you broke this law you would probably not get the maximum jail time but you would still be going to jail … for watching YouTube or Megavideo or any similar website.

You’ve had a hard day of Sherman shopping and just want to relax a bit before that four-hour Orgo lab begins, which will (as always) ruin your life. You go onto YouTube to check out a few hilarious videos, and you notice something: Nearly all clips of music videos, movies, video games, etc. are gone. And they are not coming back unless YouTube or the anonymous uploader wants to get into trouble with the law. According to Bill S.978, this will be the reality of the Internet.

Unfortunately, the bill does not directly address who gets into trouble for streaming. Would the viewer be in trouble for streaming more than 10 times in a 180-day period or would it be the person uploading copyrighted videos? There is currently no answer to the question, making this vague bill an even worse proposition.

The people placing videos of copyrighted information online can also go to jail for a maximum of five years if they make a profit of more than a certain monetary amount off of the videos. As it turns out, stopping illicit gains of wealth from other people’s work is an excellent idea. This part of the bill has a similar focus to legislation targeting illegal music downloading. Downloading a video really does take profit away from the people who made the film. Unlike music, though, you don’t download one song, love it and then buy the rest of the album. After you have the movie, you have it and that is all there is to it. So, all in all, this bill does have some redeeming qualities.

In an all-or-nothing situation, however, I would not support this bill. The toxic atmosphere that would be created and the amount of virtually innocent people in jail would be astronomical. C’mon, everyone watches YouTube or stumbles upon a cool YouTube video.