Online Campaign Aims to Stop Congress from Jailing Justin Bieber

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An anti-piracy bill currently in Congress could, if passed, put Justin Bieber in jail for five years, according to a new online campaign against the bill. Clearly, this campaign has not considered that the idea may cause all manner of conflict for those who are pro-electronic freedom but anti-Bieber.

The bill, S.978, is one that defines illegal streaming of copyrighted content as consisting of “10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period of 1 of more copyrighted works” that has financial value of at least $2,500, an offense it would make punishable by up to five years in prison. The bill is backed by the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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The Free Bieber campaign is the creation of the organization Fight For The Future, which points out “Didn’t Justin Bieber get famous by posting YouTube videos of himself singing copyrighted R&B songs? Yep. If this bill passes, he could get 5 years in jail.”

That’s a charge denied by a spokesman for Senator Amy Klobuchar, who’s sponsoring the bill. “The bill language specifically targets people who willfully engage in copyright infringement for commercial advantage or private financial gain,” explained spokesman Linden Zakula. “The bill does not criminalize uploading videos to YouTube or streaming videos at home.”

That hasn’t stopped more than 2,000 people from liking the campaign on Facebook since its launch yesterday, nor mobilizing for the cause on Twitter and Tumblr with messages like “I don’t want @JustinBieber to go to jail, help! #freebieber” Simplistic (and erroneous) reduction of important issues mixed with celebrity namedropping? Apparently, a very potent mix.

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Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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