Share Netflix? Share a jail cell

The leaden hand of Big Media and the fact that it has got any number of politicians well and truly bought was once again revealed this week when the state of Tennessee, "The Volunteer State," volunteered its legal infrastructure to do the bidding of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Yep, the dimwits that are Tennessee's excuse for elected officials displayed their intellectual mettle, or lack thereof, when they passed Senate Bill 1659, which actually reads in part: The bill "as enacted, includes entertainment services in services the theft of which constitutes theft of services; specifies that a person commits theft of services by intentionally obtaining services by forgery or false statement, in addition to deception, fraud, coercion, false pretense or any other means, to avoid payment for the services; specifies that victims may report violations and testify."

What this labyrinthine, circumlocutory language means is that if you, a consumer, should share (that's the "any other means" part), say, your Netflix password with someone else, whether that someone else is related to you or not, that person could be prosecuted.

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The penalty for infringement? "Stealing $500 or less of entertainment would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500. Theft with a higher price tag would be a felony, with heavier penalties."

While it is true that the intent of the bill was to address the blatant illegal sharing of entertainment content by the likes of those legions of scofflaws called "pirates" or "students," the potentially ridiculously wide net it casts is ripe for abuse by Big Media.

For example, just consider the RIAA's ethically dubious program that identified (often erroneously) people using P2P downloading to acquire music and then extorted money from them by threatening prosecution. By having laws that make the sharing of passwords illegal, the RIAA's "net" to capture miscreants effectively becomes much bigger. There's no doubt that the RIAA's now-shelved P2P prosecution program was both ineffective and costly, but the opportunity to start new "enforcement" programs would be hard for it to resist. Not only would it keep the organization's "mission" in the press, it would promote the appearance of the RIAA taking positive action against piracy.

You might have thought the Tennessee legislators involved would have had at least a bit of a clue and picked up on the messiness of the definition of the "crime," but, alas, that was not the case.

The sheer brainless kowtowing to the demands of Big Media is easily detected in the comments of Gov. Bill Haslam who topnews "he wasn't familiar with the details of the legislation, but given the recording industry presence, he favors 'anything we can do to cut back' on music piracy."

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Haslam added, as if to confirm his complete lack of intellectual rigor where ethics and law are concerned, "I don't know enough about that legislation, but if it's combating that issue, I would be in favor of it."

Yep, Haslam was definitely ignorantly in favor of the legislation and, of course, signed it into law which takes effect July 1 this year.

Haslam's blind support of this bill is pretty much in line with his pro-business position on various issues, such as discrimination policies (though, to give him a little credit, he has been a supporter of other bills that were rational).

What bothers me about this bill is that it is quite obviously part of a bigger plan by the RIAA and its cohorts. Mitch Glazier, executive vice president of public policy for the RIAA, was quoted as saying, "The bill is a necessary protective measure as digital technology evolves." Watch the misbegotten spawn of this bill infect what passes for the thinking processes of other pols in other states.

What I don't get is that services like Netflix limit the number of devices their content can be played on (six is Netflix's limit), and limiting simultaneous logins and capping daily playback quotas are simple and effective ways of limiting abuse.

Perhaps the media companies are just too lazy to employ intelligent management and monitoring systems and would rather complicate the law so they can slope their shoulders. And the law, at least in Tennessee, is apparently equally lazy.

Gibbs sees the pols bought and sold from Ventura, Calif. Your acquisitions to backspin@gibbs.com.

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Mark Gibbs

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