Stream a YouTube video, go directly to jail

Want to embed a copyrighted video on your website? A new Senate bill would make that a felony

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That doesn't mean some overzealous prosecutor won't go after Joe or Jane YouTube to build a name for himself, make an example of someone he doesn't like or because he's having a bad hair day.

This bill is yet another step away from a public creative commons that benefits everyone, not just deep-pocketed copyright holders, and another step toward making the U.S. government -- and the taxpayers who fund it -- the enforcement arm for private industry.

The fine folks at have followed the money trail from the coffers of the copyright barons into the campaign chests of Congress. Since 2005, organizations ranging from the American Federation of Musicians to Viacom -- and all the usual suspects in between -- have ponied up some $85 million in contributions to elected representatives on both sides of the aisle.

In this instance, though, the Democrats have their snouts most deeply into the trough: Sen. Bob Casey from Pennsylvania tops the list of recipients at $4 million, followed closely by Nevada's Harry Reid ($3.6 million), New York's Kirsten Gillibrand ($3.4 million), and California's Barbara Boxer ($3 million). All told, 31 members of Congress received at least $1 million from the 45 organizations supporting this bill, all but five of them Dems.

I'm not trying to make a partisan political point here, necessarily -- both sides have industries that butter their bread -- but Hollywood's copyright police clearly favor the Dems, and vice versa.

Of course, the music, movie, and publishing industries weren't just spending $85 million to buy this bill; they were buying all other pro-industry copyright bills, too. It's less like a bribe and more like having their pet Senators and Congress members on a leash.

I believe Congress is sincere in its desire to target organized commercial counterfeiters and not Joe or Jane YouTube, though the language of this bill is sure to be interpreted in stupid ways. Still, wouldn't it be great if we had an organization that worked to secure the rights of all individuals and not just the financial interests of a handful of multi-billion-dollar corporations? One that operated for the benefit of We, the people?

Damn that phrase sounds familiar. Wonder where I've seen it.

Should online video streaming land you in jail? Post your thoughts below or email me:

This article, "Stream a YouTube video, go directly to jail," was originally published at Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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