Anti-streaming Bill (S.978) may be trouble for YouTube/JTV game streamers

A bill has been proposed that, if taken in a certain context, could mean video game streamers on sites like YouTube, Justin.tv and UStream could be potentially shut down or thrown in jail. Typically, I’m not one to jump the gun on a story, but this is something that caught my eye.

What is the anti-streaming bill (S.978)?

The Anti-streaming bill is designed “To amend the criminal penalty provision for criminal infringement of a copyright,” but while this is particularly aimed at the music and film industry it can send shockwaves through the gaming industry as well.

UltraDavid on shoryuken.com explains it very well:

More background: there are four major exclusive rights granted to copyright holders, including the exclusive rights to reproduce a copyrighted work, to distribute it, to modify it, and to perform or display it.  Streaming a copyrighted video game audiovisual work can involve all four of those rights, but most obviously it’s a performance of that work transmitted to members of the online  public.

Just to hit you over the head with this, that means that if you stream a game like Street Fighter 4 or Starcraft 2 (or a movie or a song etc) only 10 or more times in a full half year, and if you make a bit of money doing it, you either need to have a license from Capcom or Blizzard etc or you risk going to jail.

So what could happen?

If you don’t have a license to stream the video game content you’re streaming, you could run the risk of going to jail. That’s a pretty big blow. Before you might be hit with a cease and desist letter, and you might be hit with a fine. You could never be sent to jail for it.

So channels like our Justin.tv channel, and even our YouTube channel, would have to take down our video game streaming and content because we don’t have licenses. If you have a channel you would likely fall in the same boat. If you’re making money off these accounts and your involvement in streaming, you are definitely a target as well.

We could become targets of companies like Capcom, Blizzard, Activision and the list could go on because we’re displaying content from their video games. That’s the problem with this law. It’s vague enough that we could be coupled with the same classification as movies, television shows and music.

My argument against the Anti-streaming bill

While we, as gamers, stand firm that video games are a form of art much like books, movies and music – there is something different about video games than those mediums. This is an experience that while watching the game – you get no added value other than entertainment. If you see a movie, read a book, or listen to music – you may never buy those things because “you’ve seen it”.

Video games are different in this sense. Streaming video games may actually add to video game sales. Seeing live streamed competitions adds to the hype of video games. Gamers who want to be a part of that community may make purchases they may not have.

Another difference is video games aren’t always “the same”. There is some variability in gaming. You see a movie. You’ve seen the movie. That movie won’t change. You won’t see a different version (until Hollywood feels it’s necessary to reboot). Every gamer plays a video game in his or her own way. That’s what makes video games so special!

So watching two different streamers stream the same game may actually bring about two completely different experiences. To me, the “copyright” of the video game ends with the actual distribution or recreation of the video game itself.

This also goes against everything the internet is steadily marching towards which is a social/mobile web.

So what now?

The bill has not actually been passed into law. It’s been accepted and agreed upon by the committee that the bill will be considered.

As a gamer, or one who streams, you can send a letter to complain and stand against the bill (if you so choose). I have done this. I don’t want to see this get in the way of things. Things are progressing toward a more social web – and that includes gaming. Laws may be needed, but I don’t see how this law opens things up.

UPDATE 7/15/2011: Giant Bomb did an excellent job keeping tabs on what this bill really means.

Have you heard about this law? How do you feel about it? Please share in your comments below!