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'Let's Play' videos may soon make you a felon thanks to Senate Bill S.978 [Updated]

Jordan Mallory

[Update: This Is My Next's Nilay Patel has published an extensive break-down of S.978, and it looks like the bill, if passed, wouldn't actually change much of anything for the majority of people who don't profit from their YouTube videos. "Some of the outcry here is a little overblown, as the text of the bill isn't quite as bad as you might think."]

Hold on to your butts, Internet, because this party is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better. According to Game Informer, a Senate Bill has been introduced which, if passed, would make streaming unauthorized copyrighted material a felony, resulting in up to 5-years of jail time.

Bill S.978 states that "10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works" will result in "not more than 5 years" of imprisonment, so long as the performance in question is valued at at-least $2,500 USD, or if the value of a license to legally "perform" the content is valued at $5,000 or more.

These are, in essence, the same criteria that allow for DMCA take-down notices to be issued by copyright holders, however jail time and felony status are not currently associated with this particular flavor of copyright infringement. Should this bill jump through all the right hoops, its broadly worded contents could potentially cover everything from homemade gameplay clips (commonly referred to "Let's Play" videos), to fan-made music videos, webcam cover songs, and anything else that involves copyrighted music or video. S.978 could also potentially cover cell-phone videos of concerts and press events, making 13-year-old Beliebers and jaded gaming journalists alike equally in danger of losing their right to vote.

If accepted into law, these addenda will be attached to existing copyright laws and will not only apply to YouTube users, but to the sites that embed YouTube content as well. Internet activism group Demand Progress has set up a web-form for those who disagree with the legislation and wish to communicate their displeasure to their local representatives. We would be concerned about the bill's implications as well, but fear not dear reader: the legislation doesn't cover puppet shows as far as we can tell, so Joystiq Playhouse's shadow-kabuki production of Battle Arena Toshinden should still be on track.

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