A lot of misinformation and rumors are spreading around the Internet concerning a bill introduced in Congress that criminalizes streaming of copyrighted content. The bill S.978 was designed to stop individuals from streaming pirated movies and television shows.
To be clear, we are not stating that the video game review market will collapse. The fact is that no one knows what will happen. There is, however, a significant risk that sites like ggFTW.com that publish video reviews could be impacted.
One of our members, Rhinehart, brought this bill to the attention of other ggFTW members through this Bill S.978 rant. Many Internet users have jumped to denounce or support the bill. Unfortunately, many of the arguments are fundamentally flawed by one critical omission--the difference in civil and criminal law.
In civil law, the copyright holder must file suit before the case can go before a judge. If the copyright holder does not file suit, no case is heard. Heretofore, this is how video game reviews have operated. To our knowledge, no case has ever been brought for streaming video reviews and that leads to the next point.
Criminal cases are prosecuted by the district attorney or attorney general depending upon scope. Because bill S.978 makes streaming a felony, this would fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI to investigate and U.S. Attorney General's office to prosecute. Charges can be filed REGARDLESS of the desire of the copyright holder. Although they may be considered, the government can decide to press charges regardless of whether or not the copyright holder files a claim.
A viable defense to this would be fair use. Under U.S. copyright law, certain derivative works are protected from prosecution or liability under a clause known as the "fair use" clause (the same clause that protects parody, satire, etc.). Herein lies the risk to sites like ggFTW.com.
As mentioned in our paragraph about civil law, no precedent has been set on cases involving video game reviews. All law is subject to interpretation and it is entirely possible that a judge may not see a video game review as "fair use." Will that happen? We don't know.
Even if the judge rules in favor of fair use, defending charges costs money as does litigating civil cases. If anyone ever decided to press the issue, the game review sites like ggFTW.com would lose either through losing the case or the massive financial strain of defending the case.
We at ggFTW.com believe that the illegal streaming of copyrighted movies, TV shows, and music is wrong and that the artists' copyrights should be protected. We also feel that the decision to allow or not to allow game reviews and commentaries should be left to the game companies and the reviews--NOT the federal government.
If you're a U.S. citizen, however, your voice can affect the future of this bill. Contact your Congressperson and ask them to vote "NO" on bill S.978 as written because it is too far reaching and will have unintended consequences for consumer-generated media. You can help file a petition or read more information at the following links:
ggFTW.com urges you to help stop this vague and potentially harmful bill.