The recent actions of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis put at risk all social media users and streamers on platforms like Twitch, YouTube, or Instagram. The careers of popular streamers and the platforms they use are in serious danger due to a questionable political move. Even the lives of regular internet users could be drastically affected by the passage of this new law.
Senator Tillis has proposed a new law making it a felony charge with possible jail time for receiving multiple DMCA strikes. The law was a quiet addition to a much larger bill being rushed for passage by the end of 2020. These “must-pass bills” are where some of the most controversial laws get snuck in to be passed by congress.
So what is a DMCA strike and why is it such a big deal if receiving multiple could land you a felony charge possibly resulting in jail time? Frequent stream viewers on popular platforms like Twitch, YouTube, or Instagram know that the DMCA strike is possibly the worst nightmare of streamers and collectively feared by all content creators.
The way a DMCA strike works is that a copyright holder can file a complaint with a website saying that they own a certain image, video, or audio clip and that someone is using their property unlawfully. The website is then formally instructed to terminate the content in question. It may sound fair enough, but the practice has been long despised throughout the streaming community. The way it often works in practice is that a streamer or content creator has on purpose, or many times by accident, copyrighted music in the background of whatever they’re doing and then is severely punished for it.
A common example is that a streamer might be walking through a public area or browsing the web looking at videos when a popular song plays or can be heard. The streamer has suddenly become vulnerable to a DMCA strike. Their stream could be immediately terminated and they could get into larger trouble with their respective platform leading to varying degrees of financial loss all for an accident.
In the past, the only legal trouble one could find themself in for such an offense is a misdemeanor, but after the passage of Senator Tillis’s law, any internet user could find themselves with a life-altering felony charge. Many online communities are in outrage and speaking up against this bill with the #stopDMCA hashtag on Twitter.
The justification for such a drastic penalty in the official documents submitted to Congress is that the music industry loses large sums of money from a kind of piracy called stream ripping. Stream ripping is when hackers access content from media sites like Spotify and distribute them to the public. The problem with this argument though is that in the same evidence cited by Senator Tillis, stream-ripping is described as a minor issue in the U.S. and more of a problem internationally. Social media lawyer Ian Corzine explains that this law doesn’t make sense as a method of stopping music piracy at all and that it’s based heavily on flawed evidence.
Investigations were done into Senator Tillis’s background and found that some of his biggest donors are corporations in the music industry, those that utilize the DMCA strike far more than any other group. This lead many to speculate Senator Tillis’s actions were motivated by his loyalty to his biggest donors and that he is simply doing their bidding.
If this law is passed, all social media platforms and the lives of those that use them are in serious danger and the direction of corporations’ power over the internet would swing into completely new territory.