Bieber enters the copyright wars

Minnesota Senator should be “locked up,” he tells radio station


Justin Bieber has strong feelings about intellectual property law. Asked about Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar’s desire to punish Internet content streaming, Bieber reportedly said, “she needs to be locked up—put away in cuffs.”

So what is it that made the little guy so mad?

Klobuchar has introduced legislation that, much like Canada’s pending Copyright bill, might make Justin Bieber a criminal.

In the States, Klobuchar’s Felony Streaming Bill will criminalize Youtube cover songs when the intent of the upload is commercial. Here in Canada, Heritage Minister James Moore’s Copyright Modernization Act will similarly outlaw user generated uploads with commercial intent. So, if your kid is singing a Chris Brown song just for fun, have at it! But if she or he is singing the same song in order to break into the music industry (as Bieber was), then you’re looking at a penalty of up to $20,000 per song in Canada, and up to five years in jail in the U.S. (An advocacy group there has launched an amusing “FreeBieber” campaign to drive the point home–Bieber’s lawyers are not amused.)

Both Klobuchar and Moore argue that their laws are not meant to punish the Biebers of the world, but rather target nasty pirates who copy and paste other people’s work, adding nothing creatively, and pocketing the proceeds without compensating the original creators. For example, they say, these measures would hypothetically stop someone from ripping and streaming an episode of Glee to profit from the ad hits the video traffic would generate.

The problem is, it’s pretty difficult to come up with language that differentiates nasty pirates from aspiring teen idols. Both stream versions of other people’s content in the hopes of making money. Bieber may not have expected to profit directly from the web hits generated from his early Youtube covers, but he certainly hoped to profit from the exposure this might create. What kid singing into a webcam doesn’t dream of being discovered online? And the hypothetical Glee streamer didn’t profit from the pirated show itself, but from the tangental ad impressions created each time someone visits the page. Neither would-be infringer is selling the copied content per se, but both intend to commercially exploit the popularity generated by repurposing other people’s stuff.

If both bills were law, Chris Brown’s label could have argued that Bieber had money on his mind, and that the millions of hits his cover-version generated had an adverse effect on Brown’s own commercial prospects (if those 36 millions viewers had watched Brown’s version instead, just think of how many more albums he might have sold!).

Of course, the difference between the two types of potential infringement is creativity; Bieber didn’t hold up a microphone to his stereo–he sang Brown’s tune, putting his own squeaky clean spin on it. But how do you create legislation that captures the concept of creativity? Demand that a copier creatively re-interpret a protected work in order to get a pass, and the Glee-pirate could throw a snarky commentary track or a dancing baby gif on their upload and be in the clear.

The obvious solution to this vexing quandry is to permit both kinds of streaming. It’s impossible to stop the Glee-uploaders of the world, and the adverse impact they have on authors of original works is itself debatable. Does it hurt the creators of Glee when people watch it on Megavideo instead of on TV? Yes and no. The show’s ratings may suffer, but its popularity may improve. The viewer who tries Glee out on Megavideo may watch it on TV the following week, or buy the DVD, or tell a friend about it. The two friends may then parody it in their own video and launch their own TV career.

The world isn’t neatly divided into creators and consumers, producers and pirates. As the Biebs put it himself, “people need to have the freedom…people need to be able to sing songs.”

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown


Bieber enters the copyright wars

  1. I don’t think Bieber wants to get involved in the criminal justice system debate – many people would recommend his getting the death penalty.

  2. Again, this isn’t a concern. The CPC suggests that so long as the odds of getting caught are low, you shouldn’t worry about breaking the law.

    Which, now that I think about it, explains a lot.

  3. While amusing, the Free Bieber campaign is completely wrong about what that bill will do – http://www.copyhype.com/2011/10/justin-bieber-is-not-going-to-jail/. It’s a common tactic among those opposed to copyright legislation to come up with these types of dramatic hypothetical scenarios – but they have no basis in reality.

    • Except if you read that article you link to thoroughly, it points out that what Bieber did *was* a copyright infringement — just the change in the law had nothing to do with it.

      I point to my above post.  Simply because a law isn’t being enforced in no way makes it an acceptable law, no matter how much CPC representatives and supporters might like to believe it. The potential for its enforcement is the danger.

  4. Many, many careers have been based on singing cover songs. The idea that singers must sing their own material is relatively new, and occurred mainly in rock music of the 1960s and onward. Previously, almost all singers sang all kinds of songs and most, probably, did not write songs themselves. This goes for jazz and country music, in particular, but likely all genres. In classical music, it goes without saying. Few are both composers and performers.

    If I understand these proposed laws, then they are downright daft. Why shouldn’t you post a song to the web, youtube, etc, if you want to launch a career, or just for fun? You have to get yourself ‘out there’, into people’s attention, to become a performer.

  5. This is stupid. It’s no crime to put yourself singing on youtube. There’s actual crimes out in the world that need to be punished, not this.

  6. Hint Jesse – no one cares about what Justin Bieber thinks. Leading with his name distracts from the very real issue of copyright in the internet age.

  7. I find some of the critiques you are receiving on twitter/etc to be interesting.

    There are some of the more obscure details of this article I might have different ideas on.  I believe that composers and their publishers are far more likely to openly license (and offer collective licenses), than performers+labels who are more into litigation and stopping competing creativity.  I don’t think we can lump all parts of the music industry together, or suggest that composers or independent performers are as unreasonable as labels (“makes of sound recordings”) have been.  These are three very different copyright holding groups.

    While it was clear to me, there may have been confusion for someone skimming (or less in tune with the differences in the laws) as to when you were talking about proposed changes to US copyright law and Canadian Bill C-11.

    None of these things distract from the overall topic of your article, which is that creativity and infringement aren’t as separate as the more extreme copyright maximalists allege it to be.  This observation is even more true when talking about “technological measures” given creativity and infringement are identical technological acts:  you record things, you edit things, you communicate things, you access things.  Whether something is creativity or infringement is a matter of law that requires humans to be involved in determining, not something that technology can accurately automatically differentiate.

    On the other hand, I question the accuracy of the articles written by some of those who have been critical of you.  I wrote a longer G+ article on that topic: http://goo.gl/R0KuS

  8. I’m not a fan of any particular pop singer so this comment has nothing to do with J Beiber etc. BUT don’t you think government is already on the slippery slope of directly controlling commerce of individual businesses. Just as in an autocracy – ‘do it my way or you’re a criminal and will be punished!’ We have too many ‘Control Boards’ that usurp power and start controlling individual free enterprises. There is no justification NOT to find the right language to correct a wrongdoing and avoid persecuting individual creators trying to demonstrat their art. My opinion

  9. Apparently that’s not all he’s entered.

  10. This is nothing more than yet another method for major multinational record companies to cause further costs to the public…without any real return for those costs.

    Take the CD taxes, for example. The industry lobbied the Canadian government to impose a tax on writeable CDs, which would then be funelled directly to the record companies. Today,a pack of CD’s is more than 10 times what it should cost…and the extra costs are PURELY the “industry tax”. The government works for the record companies, collects taxes from Canadians, and turns over those taxes to the record companies.

    Another brilliant work by the Canadian government.

    So what does this mean to the average Canadian? How does this affect those who do not even buy recordable CDs? Simple…EVERYONE PAYS! If you don’t pay the oppressive taxes which are sent to the record companies, you pay higher taxes all-around, because the government only works for the corporations they collect this money for…WE PAY FOR THE TAX SCAM’S ADMINISTRATION!

    It’s been suggested that as little as 5% of the “CD tax” ever makes it into the hands of the artists that the CD tax was ALLEGEDLY created to protect…in reality, it’s only there to ENHANCE revenues of a greedy industry which has always robbed artists blind, while charging far more for records, tapes and now CD’s than they are actually worth.

    Now, for CD manufacturers, they have suffered huge losses, since so many fewer CDs are sold, their profits have also suffered at the expense of the recording industry’s greed, which also costs us money in the form of reduced ability to operated within a much higher volume of “economy of scale.” If they made more CDs, the price would be lower…so the only REAL effect on the consumer is that things cost more money, and we get nothing out of it, but the government justifies it’s existence, justifies it’s overtaxation without ANY representation, and corporations know with absolute certainty that the Canadian government works for them…it’s just the people who pay for it all.

    Proof that the Canadian government hasn’t a clue is with the problem of tobacco smuggling, which was estimated at 85% of the Canadian tobacco market’s products being sold to the US and smuggled back, to avoid the oppressive overtaxation.

    The Canadian government stepped in–to try to save their tax revenue stream–by reducing taxes to only a few hundred percent, and within DAYS, the entire US-Canada tobacco smuggling problem which had been building for years was over. Tobacco smugglers were bankrupted, sitting on packs of $4.00 cigarettes they USED to sell for $5.00, but which were suddenly worth $1.85…so the reality is that the government fixed the smuggling problem by REDUCING TAXES. Another reality that is NEVER discussed is that they fixed the smuggling problem completely by accident…an accident that they have not only reversed, but increased and internationalized!

    Today, tobacco taxes are even more usurous than they were…more than 50% higher, so that yesterday’s near-$7.00 pack is now selling for upwards of $10.00…but now the US-Canada smuggling doesn’t exist, as it has been replaced with sub-standard knockoffs and counterfeit tobacco from India and China.

    They fixed the problem…accidentally…then they re-created the problem, and made it even worse than it was before.

    The question is, what corporation ordered them to make THAT decision?

  11. http://www.trizzat.com has great content on copyright law and music law specifically.  The contributors should be tackling the Protect IP Act in Congress very soon.  Take a look as this may provide you with a deeper understanding of music law in the US http://trizzat.com/2011/11/copyright-law-applying-to-music/ as well as EU: http://trizzat.com/2011/10/a-view-on-the-eu-copyright-extension-directive-of-2011/

Sign in to comment.