louis-velazquez-XWW746i6WoM-unsplash-1I wrote just last week about efforts to place some measure of copyright reform, along with other dull or unpalatable legislation, inside the new spending bill that is grinding through Congress at a pace that can be considered less-than-glacial, given the effects of global warming. To recap: the CASE Act is a flawed attempt at improving existing copyright law with what would be a copyright small claims court, likely opening it up to more abuse on the part of bad-faith actors rather than less, and the danger presented in this anodyne, pro-forma bit of bundling is that no one will care enough about something like IP law to hold up overdue COVID-19 relief.

Would that we could simply travel back to last week, when the CASE Act represented the worst outcome for IP law reform. Per Techdirt, Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina is pushing for the inclusion of a separate copyright bill that would make streaming copyrighted material a felony. If, in reading the previous sentence, you were jarred by the word "felony" you're not alone; were Tillis to get his way, streaming copyrighted content would enter the class of the most serious criminal offenses.

Now, it goes without saying that there are of course classes of felonies, and that streamers are unlikely to end up in maximum security occupying cells next to hardened murderers. But that is almost beside the point; as Masnick points out, why is copyright violation considered a criminal concern and not a civil matter? The threat of copyright infringers as felons is chilling in that it would dissuade people from ever even taking the risk of using copyrighted works, even for what would otherwise be considered fair use. Which is likely the entire point of the bill, one would imagine.

You might be wondering what would prompt a sitting United States Senator to support such draconian legislation, and if your mind immediately drifted to "money" then you take the prize: the American Prospect reports that Tillis received an influx of campaign donations from media companies during his successful bid for re-election in November, and further details his close relationship to rights-holding corporations. It's an answer is both unpleasant and entirely expected: the bill exists because rightsholders have paid for it to exist, and will continue to pay to have it enacted and enforced.

It's not exactly the legislative process as imparted to us by Schoolhouse Rock, but it's the one we've got, and the one we're likely stuck with unless and until the money dries up.

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