5 Years in Jail for Embedding a YouTube Video?

Posted on June 3, 2011


Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is it possible that our copyright laws could be made even more draconian? So much so that a person could go to prison for five years for the unspeakable crime of embedding a YouTube video on their blog or website?

Apparently, the answer is yes.

Three Senators want to amend the Copyright Act to make “public performances” of copy-written material a crime, not just a civil tort as it is now. Why is this a problem? Because, as usual, our government is incompetent in matters of technology they don’t understand and have written a piece of legislation which would have broad consequences in turning millions of Americans into criminals.

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 effectively the same thing). Without clear definitions, we run into problems pretty quickly.

If you embed a YouTube video that turns out to be infringing, and more than 10 people view it because of your link… you could be facing five years in jail.

It seems unlikely that we’d see massive prosecutions against every person who shares an “infringing” video on their Facebook account, but that brings up another, perhaps more important point: Laws like this turn all our laws into a joke. There’s no longer a stigma against breaking the law but rather simply getting caught. Any time you pass a law which is unenforceable it degrades the integrity of our entire legal system, and when we pass laws this broad which are enforced it’s one more step into the pit of tyranny.

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