The Omnibus Spending Bill Passed by U.S. Congress Last Night Includes Some Copyright Nonsense

Rhett Jones, Gizmodo:

Late Tuesday night, Congress finally found the time to work out a modest covid-19 relief package that was tucked into a must-pass spending bill. Also included in the package was a pair of controversial copyright bills that will make the web a more dangerous place for sharing. What are you gonna do about it?

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

Incredibly, while the bill does have 2,000 pages of actual appropriations details, the other 3,000 pages are totally unrelated bills that Congress couldn’t pass through the rest of the year. Even if you like the bills, even if you are mad that Congress is gridlocked at other times, that’s no excuse to support this awful undemocratic process. Everything about it is bad.

Now, lots of people are still combing through the bill to find all the awful landmines that it’s too late to do anything about, but the two that we’ve been talking about here are the copyright provisions. I’ve already explained multiple times why the felony streaming bill and the CASE Act are extremely problematic, so I won’t go over either again. I will note that neither final provision is as bad as they were in earlier versions. Both were somewhat limited from truly terrible provisions to what is today merely awful. But that’s nothing to celebrate.

Stan Adams, of the Center for Democracy and Technology, wrote about the CASE Act when it was proposed last year:

The CASE Act would establish a quasi-judicial body within the Copyright Office (part of the legislative branch) empowered to hear a limited set of claims, make “determinations” about whether those claims are valid, and assign “limited” damages. The bill structures the process so that it is “voluntary” and lowers the barriers to filing claims so that plaintiffs can more easily defend their rights. Without the “quotes”, this description might sound like a reasonable approach, but that’s because we haven’t talked about the details. Let’s start at the top.

Makena Kelly, the Verge:

Yes, Congress approved a new bill Monday that would classify illegal streaming as a felony offense, but the feds won’t be going after your favorite Twitch streamers, YouTubers, or their subscribers. They’re more interested in services dedicated to streaming pirated content.


Still, it’s totally understandable that YouTubers and streamers would freak out about a bill whose final text was released only days before it was approved. Social video platforms haven’t done the best job in the past with copyright, Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claims, and strikes. YouTube’s algorithm frequently flags content as violating copyright even when it doesn’t. For a long time, copyright owners like Universal were able to claim videos without expressly stating where the copyrighted material appeared in the content. Copyright is messy.

The whole point of copyright, if you believe the intellectual property argument, was to allow the creator of a work a short period of exclusivity with fair use exemptions, after which a work becomes part of the public domain. But automated tools suck at identifying works that fairly use copyrighted media, and the period of exclusivity has been unreasonably extended in many jurisdictions.

Laws like those snuck into the spending bill passed yesterday are a tremendous asset to the increasingly conglomerated major studios and publishers, and are worrisome for everybody else.