It seems another rash of Bieber Fever is breaking out across the internet as a new “green paper” from the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force goes public. This report [PDF], published in July, takes the position that it should be a felony to stream copyrighted works, echoing a bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) back in 2011. Two years ago, passions were ignited with an online campaign to “Free Bieber” from prison, where he was supposedly sent for posting the cover songs on YouTube that launched his career. The too-cute-to-be-accurate campaign even inspired The Bieb himself to come out against Klobuchar’s Commercial Felony Streaming Act.
Well, don’t “belieb” the hype. It wasn’t true then and it’s even less true today. The Task Force is not recommending that cover artists—or even the fans streaming potentially infringing videos—be sent to jail. Rather, the report merely recognizes an anomaly in copyright enforcement in which the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works—such as illegal downloads—can be punished as a felony, but public performance—such as streaming—is currently a misdemeanor. In other words, the Task Force thinks it makes sense to harmonize digital and streaming standards. (This outlook is also shared by the Obama administration and the Copyright Office.) The reasoning, according to the report, is that “the lack of potential felony penalties for criminal acts of streaming disincentivizes prosecution and undermines deterrence.”