What are we to make of Justin Bieber exclaiming that Amy Klobuchar needs to be “locked up”?
“That guy needs to be locked up,” Bieber said after hearing about the bill, apparently not immediately remembering Amy is generally a woman’s name. “Whoever she is, she needs to know that I’m saying she needs to be locked up, put away in cuffs.”
Here’s the audio clip.
Why does Bieber even know who Amy Klobuchar is, let alone this animosity? It’s about S.978, the so-called “Protect IP Act,” and the House version, known as the “Stop Online Piracy Act.” Among other things, these bills would make Web streaming of copyrighted work a felony, with a 5-year jail sentence. Because the Beebs got his start by posting his renditions of other people’s songs on YouTube, activists have used him as a rallying point, creating the site FreeBieber.org. Bieber’s lawyers have filed a cease and desist order against the site, incidentally, so Bieber isn’t ALL that committed to Internet freedom.
But the bill he reacted to today is dangerous. On the narrow point of whether content creators would be criminalized for posting copyrighted work, or whether the sites themselves would bear the brunt of the law, there is substantial disagreement. WaPo found an IP attorney to say that “someone who uploads a video to YouTube is not performing the video — YouTube is,” and therefore Bieber would be safe. However, a co-sponsor of S.978, Chris Coons, stated flatly that both “individuals and sites providing the streamed content” would be subject to felony prosecution.
Klobuchar’s spokesperson agreed with the IP attorney, saying in a statement, “It’s not about people posting their personal work on the web… The bill only covers the intentional commercial theft of things like books, commercial music, and movies, including foreign piracy.” But IP lawyer Jonathan Band disagrees. “Unless an individual has a good faith reasonable belief that his streaming is lawful,” said Band in a statement, “he arguably is willfully infringing, and is subject to felony penalties, even if he had no commercial purpose.”
The problem is how loose the language is in the bill. Howard University law professor Lateef Mtima wrote, “Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the Bill is that the conduct it would criminalize is so poorly defined. While on its face the bill seems to attempt to distinguish between commercial and non-commercial conduct, purportedly criminalizing the former and permitting the latter, in actuality the bill not only fails to accomplish this but because of its lack of concrete definitions, it potentially criminalizes conduct that is currently permitted under the law.”
The other problem is that the entire bill is pretty suspect. It adds another gateway on the Net and allows copyright holders to bully both content creators and the audience to block access. Web services like YouTube would find it almost impossible to operate in such a constrained environment. The Fight for the Future website has a pretty good roundup.
So whether Bieber wants to jail Klobuchar or Klobuchar wants to jail Bieber or none of these, the basic point is that the Protect IP Act is a pretty awful piece of legislation.