Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
New bill upgrades unauthorized Internet streaming to a felony (arstechnica.com)
148 points by evo_9 on May 16, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

"Did you really think we want those laws observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with." ('Atlas Shrugged' 1957)

The fact that this law is being pursued in the interest of private corporations, namely the music and movie industries, makes the evil government conspiracy argument invalid.

This is about corrupt ineffective government, not evil mastermind government.

The thing is, it's not usually necessary for an entire organization (or even the most critical controlling part) to explicitly come up with and follow an evil plan, in order for them to act as though they were governed by an evil plan. Just like it's not necessary for one person, or one group of people, to conceive of the entire manufacturing process of, say, a pencil (right down to the brewing of the coffee drunk by the lumberjacks that chop the wood eventually used to make the pencil), in order for the pencil to be produced in that fashion. If the right people have the right incentives at the right time, then the end result is the same as if they were all following a plan.

So, if, say, some media companies lobby some members of Congress to put forth a bill because piracy is inconvenient for them, and the rest of Congress passes the bill because they think it helps enforce what they think are property rights, and the President signs it because it appears to be the solution to a growing problem, and the FBI or whatever (apparently DHS has taken an interest in these cases) makes a vague effort toward enforcing it (it is hard and resource-intensive to enforce thoroughly)... and then a dictatorial-minded president gets elected, and makes a practice of enforcing this law very stringently upon political opponents... then it's the same result as if the whole thing were planned beforehand by a conspiracy of evil masterminds.

(I'll take the opportunity to mention how Al Capone was convicted and put to justice... for income tax evasion. Whatever Congress or the public had in mind when passing the 16th amendment, I'm sure it wasn't this.)

It's simply helpful as a way to predict the potential consequences down the road of a piece of legislation to imagine that the government is composed of evil masterminds. I don't care whether there is such a conspiracy; arguing with that premise misses the point. It's like treating a mass of jiggling particles as an ideal gas for purposes of physical calculations; the argument is that that will--most likely, eventually--happen.

I'm not sure the "evil government conspiracy" argument and the "evil corporations conspiracy" argument are mutually exclusive. In Atlas Shrugged (I know, it's terrible that I suggest anyone actually read that book, but bear with me) the problem is almost exactly as you observed: Some companies are able to write the law, and everyone else loses.

I've spent a fair amount of time around left/right libertarians and anarchists, and it bothers me that they spend so much time debating this. One side will say "The problem is the evil corporations," and the other will say "The problem is that the government has too much power," but the argument is pointless because they are both correct.

The thing is is that corporations and governments are composed of individual humans and many times their interests are intertwined.

For instance, as anyone who's studied the financial crisis knows, there are plenty of people in the SEC who used to work for big wall street firms or got very cushy high paid wall street jobs after they leave the SEC. Thus, the wall street firms were not prosecuted for their possibly illegal practices during the financial crisis.

The government vs the private sector is just a false conflict to divert your attention away from the individual actors with lucrative ties to the entertainment industry in the public and private sector who are driving this.

If you think that the quote regards an evil mastermind, and not a corrupt and ineffective government, then you haven't read the book. Those bad guys may have thought that they were being evil masterminds, but (spoiler alert) in the end, they wind up as king nothing, as civilization falls to pieces around them.

25% of all imprisoned people are already in US jails. I think more ways to go to jail is the last thing the US needs.

quoting fiction doesn't help your case.

I'm a fan of that particular legal theorist, but I think you'll need to go a bit farther than merely mentioning the title, which refers to life in the USSR under communism. He's not saying that everyone in the US is actually committing 3 felonies a day, but rather arguing for tort reforms, better sunset provisions, and a more responsive legislative process. A great deal of law finds its way onto the books because 'it seemed like a good idea at the time,' and very often such laws are the result of populist pressure. Some are engineered by people with selfish motives, many are simply misguided.

I don't think you've read this book.

Making this a felony is beyond harsh. For reference, here are a few other crimes classified as felonies:

Murder, criminal sexual conduct, manslaughter, criminal vehicular homicide, assault, robbery (simple or aggravated), kidnapping, neglect or endangerment of a child, solicitation of juveniles, prostitution, arson, and burglary.

And, if these senators (and their media industry supporters) are successful, unauthorized streaming of 10 or more copyrighted works in a 180-day period.

You can't really argue that unauthorized streaming doesn't impact the entertainment industry negatively, but it should be obvious to everyone that the impact is not significant enough to make it a felony.

What really stands out here is prostitution. It's the only item on the list that punishes a consensual agreement between two adults. An agreement that doesn't affect anyone else in any meaningful way.

Prostitution isn't always "wholly" consensual; some women are forced into the profession.

When it's not consensual, it's a different crime and a wholly different matter in my view.

I'm betting there's whole lot of people who don't consider their jobs entirely "consensual".

If you're referring to the use or threat of force, that's a completely different crime.

Clearly, marking those same women as felons is the solution.

That's a meaningless argument. Any crime that draws a sentence of more than a year is a felony. It doesn't mean all felonies are considered equally serious, or that violence is an inherent characteristic of felonies.

I believe Construct was trying to convey a relevant and considerate position; punishing people with prison sentences for playing movies over the internet is unjust.

As you are apparently aware, being classified a 'felon' requires that one be convicted of a crime for which the punishment is either a year+ in prison or death. How can you justify that type of punishment, including the attending permanent consequences, as being meaningless in the context of this conversation?

I doubt they're targeting individual people watching movies. It's far more likely they're after movie streaming sites like surfthechannel / letmewatchthis / etc.

When introducing a law, it's not importand who you are "after". It's important how it can be used.

If it can be used against people watching movies, it would be, sooner or later. So the question is: can it be used that way?

You can't really argue that unauthorized streaming doesn't impact the entertainment industry negatively.

Yes you can.

Sales have fallen off a cliff since the internet got popular. You can throw up charts, etc., but they are clearly affected. The actual argument here should be: should they be affected. I think they should. If horse ranchers would have had the power the entertainment industry has they might have forced us to keep using horses to get around. We've obviously benefited by letting their market die.

Writing a bad check for more than $20 dollars, being drunk in public, or disturbing others by making loud and unreasonable noises, are all felonies.

It's probably not a bad thing that this stuff would go to criminal court. I think criminal courts would be far less enthusiastic about claiming 1 song is worth thousands of dollars.

Really, the amount of effort to prove something like this is off the charts. It's not like searching a car and finding a bag of weed. How many prosecutors are going to put together the logs to show this actually happend and it was worth more than 5k?

In most states you need to bounce a significantly larger check to become a felon:


Being drunk in public is a misdemeanor:


As is disturbing the peace:


Hmm. I must have been mistaken about the check fraud - or things have changed in the last 20 years.

disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct have a felony versions when weapons or drugs are present.

The point is, stealing $5000 is a big deal. Streaming $5000 dollars worth of unlicensed music for public performance could be a big deal too. However, i have a hard time believing a criminal court would value a streamed song at much more than a few cents each. You'd literally be streaming thousands of songs a day.

This isn't (afaik) streaming your stuff to your family, it's cloning pandora and not paying license fees.

You can't compare stealing $5000 with streaming $5000 worth of music/video; they are completely different concepts. By streaming you are not stealing material from anybody nor it can be proven that it affects negatively on sales.

disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct have a felony versions when weapons or drugs are present.

I think that this is a big "if".

The killer here is "the cost of licensing such performances is greater than $5,000".

How it works: They claim the cost of licensing the song you've streamed is 5,001$, and you're jailed. And it's not obvious that they can't name an arbitrary sum as cost of licensing.

I don't know how much it applies to USA, but otherwise this scheme has already been used thru the world.

This is getting ridiculous. Under current U.S. law, felons cannot vote or carry guns; it isn't just a matter of a disproportionate prison sentence and fine.

In principle, it sounds like a good idea to prevent those bad people from voting. But now you can see that this can actually be used as a political weapon, to keep those you disagree with from having a voice.

Or a gun.

I'm reluctant to accept any violation of copyright as anything more than a civil issue.

It seems like a bunch of laws are trying to get around the "safe harbor" clause of the DMCA. This directly threatens Google, I'd think Google would be interested in either buying up the music and movie companies or, a much cheaper option, buying politicians. Perhaps that's the slippery slope to an Evil Google, but there don't seem to be many options for stopping the insanity. They may not pass the bill this time or next time but they keep bringing this stuff up, I can't help but think if they paperclip it to the right other giant-bill-everyone-is-in-favor-for it'll be bound to pass eventually.

Perhaps a better route for google is to put their cash into a grassroots anti-lobbyist campaign.

There is no "evil" or "good" Google. There is only Google; a publicly traded company.

Flagging, because the discussion is going nowhere, mainly because either almost no one is reading the article before commenting, or they are reading it but not understanding it.

To elaborate, unauthorized copying and distributing has long (decades) been a felony if you are doing it for commercial advantage or private financial gain, and in any 180-day period this involves copies worth more than $1000.

Look at the language Ars quotes. It talks about streaming a certain number of copies in any 180-day period, and puts a threshold ($2500 retail value or $5000 licenses) you have to meet in order to run afoul of the new provisions.

It sounds likely, based on the similarity to the existing felony provisions, that these new provisions fit in with those, and thus are only covering people who are doing illegal streaming AS A BUSINESS (and doing a good amount of business...if the retail value of a streaming move is $5, they have to have 500 customers over six months to hit the threshold). They are not nailing people who consume the streams (just as the felony copying and distribution provisions don't nail the customer).

Is it just me, or has there been a flurry of internet-related legislation of late. With the PSN hack still fresh on their minds I wonder how much more legislation is yet to come. Between this, COICA and PROTECT IP, things are starting to look bleak.

Are there similar precedents when other disruptive technologies started eating into traditional markets (maybe the introduction of tapes or CDs, or the telegraph and radio)?

Just think of it as a job creation measure - jail lots of people for unauthorized internet streaming, that way we'll build more private prisons and hire corrections officers to staff them.

We could just criminalize alcohol and tobacco (or start enforcing marijuana in the bay...) if we wanted to do that.

s/bay/state of California/

Sadly, it's true.

The distinction between downloading and streaming can be considered odd from a technical standpoint, however I do think that it's much much easier to stream illegal content unknowingly than it is downloading it.

Basically, if you download an episode of a TV show for free, common sense would tend to say that something is fishy: you end up with a file on your drive forever. However, in the case of streaming, I feel like it's much less clear.

Two scenarios: I want to watch an episode of The Office, I google "The Office season 6 episode 3" and end up watching the episode with ads on Hulu. I can also pay a subscription to watch any episode I want.

I then want to watch an episode of Dexter and google "Dexter season 5 episode 3" and end up watching the episode on MegaVideo with ads (for MegaVideo, MegaUploader… mostly) and a daily limit that can be waived with a subscription.

The first one is legal, the second one is not but a non-savvy user couldn't really tell the difference. I don't really have a way to know that MegaVideo doesn't pay the copyright holders with the subscriptions and ads.

If my understanding is correct, Megavideo is the person streaming the video and you are the person watching the video, meaning Megavideo would be the one with the felony.

At what point do we just call the US government what it really is, an oligarchy.

Republics actually represent the public at large not just the wealthy and connected.

That's what I call a draconian law.

"Draconian is an adjective meaning great severity, that derives from Draco, an Athenian law scribe under whom small offences had heavy punishments."

Let's find the closest friends and relatives of these politicians who infringe any intellectual property rights in any way and then get them on record saying they'd readily see their own kindred hit with felony convictions.

Things like this come from people who don't understand why intellectual property was enshrined into law in the first place.

Not that I support this in any way, but I can't quite comprehend the technical ignorance in legal circles that has lead them to distinguish between streaming and downloading in the first place.

The definition of downloading was written into law before streaming became widespread; likely, when the former was used to prosecute someone for streaming copyrighted material, the defense pointed out the inadequacy of the existing definition. There's a distinction in law between downloading in the sense of saving something to your hard disk and just having it in RAM. Obviously, if I go to your website and see something on my screen, I have 'downloaded' in some fashion, but if just passing through memory was considered a download then running a program or opening a file would be considered equivalent to making a copy.

"What are you in for?"


How does this idea serve to protect the American people?

I'm not worried. Ars Technica digs up at least one of these scary bills going through Congress each year and nothing ever comes out of it. Our lawmakers may be in the pocket of big content, but they aren't stupid enough to pass something as draconian as this. The real things we need to worry about probably won't be as obviously draconian.

The repeated requests for that kind of law modification have effect of moving the Overton window [0] in the direction of stiffer IP enforcement. Even if the bills fall flat one after another, they move the bounds of discussion towards heavy-handed IP rules. Preparing grounds for small, creeping changes.


[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

Have you seen the adminstration's white paper on IP enforcement? This type of legislation is a priority for Obama and Biden.


A bit sad. I can understand the desire to prohibit the streaming of copyrighted material, but taking infringement of any sort (especially streaming media) to a felony level is a bit ridiculous. This is just lobbyist nonsense. You're elected to protect the American people, so do it.

Perspective: leading the US into an unnecessary war in Iraq, under what most reasonable people would say were trumped up claims and distorted logic, which then directly led to 3000+ American military deaths, and a multiple of that in Iraqi deaths..... Not a felony.

Streaming a video without authorization? Felony.

A woman claims a man (IMF chief Strauss today) forced her into some sex acts: mere accusation causes him to be led off a plane and put into a jail cell pending a full trial. Before a fair trail, he's now in jail. Based on one person's accusation. (Which may or may not be legitimate, or may have been a honeypot setup, we don't know yet, and may never know.)

Several men and women claim a man (and his administration) did (the things I claimed in my first paragraph): neither Bush or Cheney or any other top leader ever spent time in jail to this day, nor even charged in the first place. (Libby doesn't count, he was charged with something else, a formality.)

What's broken here?

Guys, it's a cheap trick. Introduce some ridiculous charges, hear the expected outrage, tune it down a bit to the levels they wanted.

you americans seem to be under attack by the oligarchs, if you havent noticed yet

I'm not sure what to do about it. Voting doesn't do anything, and hoisting the red and black would only get me kidnapped or murdered.

"hoisting the red and black"?

Google doesn't help (suggests maybe resorting to piracy, but that wouldn't result in you getting kidnapped/murdered), so would you explain that idiom?

The most common anarchist flag is red and black.

Why do you think it would get you kidnapped or murdered?

It is unclear to me what the punishment for sedition is, but I think it is safe to assume that it includes being kidnapped (arrested), and attempts to defend oneself against kidnapping (resisting arrest) are usually met with murder (use of force).

Why couldn't you promote anarchism through the political system?

Sorry, just had to laugh. Anyway, vote for Ron Paul and at least you might get something.

You could move to Canada or somewhere so that you don't keep supporting the bad system with your tax dollars. That's about the only thing I can think of that might have any effect.

I could, but I would continue owing taxes to the U.S. for 10 years after giving up my citizenship. I could move to a country that doesn't have an extradition agreement with the United States and refuse to pay, but I don't really want to limit myself to those countries. I could also make my living under the table, but that would be against the law. I wouldn't want to break the law, because if I did that I might get kidnapped.

You only have to keep filing for 10 years if you give up your citizenship specifically for tax purposes. The US does enough evil that you're bound to be able to find some other reason for giving it up.

Are you in Canada? Keeping up with the changes?

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact