Don’t Turn Online Streaming Into a Felony


Target: United States President Barack Obama

Goal: Don’t increase the penalty for streaming copyrighted work online.

Uploading a copyrighted song onto a website such as YouTube could soon become a felony. The United States Department of Commerce is pressuring Congress to “consider felony charges for people caught streaming copyrighted songs, music and movies;” some watchdog and First Amendment groups warn that this could lead to felony charges for the practice of “uploading home-made cover tunes to the Word Wide Web.” In a recently released paper, the Department of Commerce “repeats the [Obama] administration’s prior call for congress to enact legislation adopting the same range of penalties for criminal streaming of copyrighted works to the public as now exists for criminal reproduction and distribution.”

In 2011, Congress failed to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (otherwise known as SOPA) due to mass outcry from individuals, institutions, and organizations convinced that the United States Federal Government’s attempts to curtail online file-sharing of copyrighted material would restrict free speech, whistleblowing, and online communication. They were right; it seems insane to consider a homemade cover-video made in tribute to a band, song, or album a piece of criminal reproduction on par with counterfeit money and counterfeit prescription medication.

Under current United States laws, the reproduction and streaming of copyrighted works without a license is a misdemeanor, and it should stay a misdemeanor. Tell President Barack Obama not to endorse this dangerous legislation proposed on behalf of the United States Department of Commerce.


Dear President Obama,

Felony charges ought to be reserved for criminal actions that threaten serious harm to individuals or that threaten the security of major institutions. Uploading album tracks and music videos to YouTube does neither of these. The United States Department of Commerce would have us believe that uploading copyrighted material is a criminal action tantamount to the counterfeiting of prescription medication, and would see it punished as such. This is ridiculous.

It is true that we are a nation of laws, and it is true that copyright infringement can harm the revenue of certain recording industries and motion picture industries. However, a fan who uploads a favorite track from their favorite band’s new album to YouTube is not seeking to actively harm any American industry; rather, they are simply sharing a favorite piece of art with the world.

Furthermore, certain studies indicate that online streaming such as this actually boosts record sales since it exposes people to recordings which they may go out and buy.  If a teenager records a cover of one of their favorite musician’s songs as a tribute, should this behavior be considered on par with the actions of money launderers and drug counterfeiters? The answer is no.

Congress sensibly failed to pass the repressive Stop Online Privacy Act after mass outcry from privacy and free speech-minded individuals and groups throughout the world. Do not revive this repressive bill under a different name. Do not let the Department of Commerce sway you against freedom of communication. Don’t turn online streaming into a felony; don’t adopt repressive measures to curtail Americans’ online activity.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: DannySullivan via Flickr

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