YouTube Song Covers Could Now Land You In Jail for 5 Years

Oh so you want to do a cover of your favorite song and put it on YouTube, perhaps in the hopes of putting yourself on the music industry map, just like my little songbird friend Lelia Broussard did a couple of years ago with her cover of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” embedded above? (Also, she performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show last night!) Well, are you prepared to potentially go to prison? Because Senate Bill 978 would make “infringing” on YouTube videos a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Reports Truth is Treason:

Supporters of this bill claim that all it’s really doing is harmonizing US copyright law’s civil and criminal sections. After all, the rights afforded under copyright law in civil cases cover a list of rights: reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works or perform the work. The rules for criminal infringement only cover reproducing and distributing — but not performing. So, supporters claim, all this does is “harmonize” copyright law and bring the criminal side into line with the civil side by adding “performance rights” to the list of things.

If only it were that simple. But, of course, it’s not. First of all, despite claims to the contrary, there’s a damn good reason why Congress did not include performance rights as a criminal/felony issue: because who would have thought that it would be a criminal act to perform a work without permission? It could be infringing, but that can be covered by a fine. When we suddenly criminalize a performance, that raises all sorts of questionable issues.

Furthermore, as we suspected, in the full text of the bill, “performance” is not clearly defined. This is the really troubling part. Everyone keeps insisting that this is targeted towards “streaming” websites, but is streaming a “performance”? If so, how does embedding play into this? Is the site that hosts the content guilty of performing? What about the site that merely linked to and/or embedded the video (linking and embedding are technically and effectively the same thing). Without clear definitions, we run into problems pretty quickly.

But wait…it gets better. A provision in the bill states that it’s a felony if, say, Uproxx allows for “10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works.” In other words, as Gizmodo’s Kat Hannaford points out, “if I were to post a video…and more than 10 people view it, I personally could face five years in jail. Whoops.”

This is what you get when you have elected representatives who don’t know jack-sh*t about the web that are also bought and paid for by huge corporations. Congress trying to regulate the internet feels sort of like a cat trying to eat a watermelon.