Teen musician Justin Bieber declared during a radio interview Friday that Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar should be “locked up, and put away in cuffs” as punishment for her bill to toughen copyright infringement laws.
FreeBieber.org, a website dedicated to defeating Klobuchar’s bill, promoted the audio from the interview, declaring that “Justin Bieber speaks out against S.978.”
Fight for the Future — the group behind FreeBieber.org — strongly opposes the pending Senate bill that Klobuchar proposed in May. The bill passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee without objection earlier this year and would amend the Net Act of 1997.
“The bill harmonizes the penalties for large-scale infringement with modern methods of piracy, i.e. online streaming,” said Sandra Aisters, Executive Director of the Copyright Alliance, a non-partisan group ”dedicated to the value of copyright as an agent for creativity, jobs and growth.”
Aisters, a copyright lawyer, explained to TheDC that the bill targets streaming content online. Uploading music samples to YouTube, for example, wouldn’t be criminalized by the legislation.
“Music licensing law is a dense topic and the freebieber campaign is full of false information,” said Aisters. “Justin Bieber and aspiring artists doing covers of hit songs in their bedrooms have nothing to worry about. One, YouTube, not the uploader of the cover, is doing the streaming. All of the major professionals and music publishers have licensed public performances of musical works on YouTube.”
Tiffiniy Cheng, director of Fight for the Future, was thrilled by Bieber’s support. Cheng told TheDC, “He’s at the center of our campaign because he’s the perfect example representing the American dream.” The American dream, Cheng said, included the ability to go from complete obscurity to phenomenal success.
Fight for the Future was originally reprimanded by Bieber’s lawyers, after the child musician discovered that FreeBieber.org displayed his image behind bars — as a way to draw attention to their cause. Electronic Frontier Foundation’s attorney, who also represents Fight for the Future, told Bieber’s lawyers they had no case due to the fact that their site was protected under freedom of speech laws.
Fight for the Future alleges that the bill is broad and overreaching, criminalizing what normal people do every day on YouTube.
Fight for the Future notes that tech policy groups from all sides of the ideological spectrum — Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, Demand Progress, Free State Foundation, Creative Commons, Mozilla and Question Copyright — are also against the bill.
Asked for comment about Bieber’s reaction to the pending legislation, a spokesperson from Klobuchar’s office told TheDC, “Justin Bieber must have been misled about the content of this bill. The bill only covers the intentional commercial theft of things like books, commercial music, and movies, including foreign piracy.”
The music community, the very group of people the legislation is meant to protect, has not been silent on the legislation either: industry trade associations representing musicians, songwriters and record labels are supportive of the bill.
American Federation of Musicians, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the National Music Publishers Association, the Recording Academy and the Recording Industry Association of America issued a joint statement calling Klobuchar’s bill “pro-artist” legislation that was “carefully crafted to go after people who, with criminal intent, try to earn a profit from the misuse of copyrighted videos.”
“As numerous news outlets and copyright experts have concluded, the claim that any aspiring musician would face jail time for posting videos is simply wrong,” said the trade associations.
Cheng disagrees with the associations. She told TheDC, “We think the RIAA and the MPAA are wasting their time going to lawmakers to get these bills passed when they could be spending their time developing better business models.”
Both government and industry leaders are concerned that intellectual property theft via online piracy from China is costing the U.S. billions of dollars. This summer during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said, “We’re on the losing end of the biggest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind and we need to do something about it.”
Klobuchar’s office and Aisters assured TheDC that the bill was addressing the issues of real piracy, not kids singing their favorite songs in their bedroom.
“The law requires criminal intent — willful infringement of a work — not likely in the case of a tween singing a cover in his bedroom,” said Aisters. “It sets revenue thresholds and it is unlikely that the performance of a tween singing a cover in his bedroom would be valued at these limits.”
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