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Take a stand against Bill S.978

Politics

Without a doubt, if it wasn’t for the internet, YouTube, and general streaming capabilities, the video game community would not be where it’s at today. And well, the same could be said about today’s issues with copyright infringements regarding movies, music and television. In a desperate attempt to truly outlaw the latter, the United States Senate has begun considering Bill S.978. Whoever does their proof-reading evidently is ignorant about today’s tech culture, nor do they understand that they’re brewing a disastrous storm.

S.978 was entered into the Senate on May 12, 2011, and has recently been placed in the initial phases of its evaluation. As mentioned, this bill details the legal repercussions that would ensue from the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material via internet. However, there’s a big problem. As detailed in the bill:

“the offense consists of 10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works”

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Because of the vague use of “public performances by electronic means”, this has unwittingly placed video games in the danger zone. Meaning, if you recorded yourself playing a video game and then uploaded it onto YouTube, you could be punished. Should you insist to post said video, without getting penalized, you would have to contact the publisher of the game to obtain permission, plus, you would need to employ the services of a lawyer. With the amount of work and money involved, this would promptly destroy whatever motivation you had in doing something so simple.

Now a lot of you may already be apathetic given the common misconception that developers, publishers, and copyright holders would be presumed to accommodate the community in getting around this. Unfortunately, this is not true as it isn’t a provision for civil law guidelines. This is a bill, meant to be engraved in criminal law guidelines. If passed, this provides the government the freedom to press charges on anyone for infringement, regardless if the copyright holder has a problem with it or not. But granted, not everyone is willing to spend time broadcasting themselves with video games, so the urgency of this matter still falls short in being unanimously heard. To those of you within this demographic, allow me to tune you in on how this can affect us all.

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The first, and foremost, is communication. Before the possibility of videos being integrated onto computers, then internet, gamers relied on GameFAQs for guidance. Unfortunately, the written word isn’t always perfect when it comes to communicating involving concepts. Not everyone has a talent for writing, and then there’s that subject of typos. If you’ve looked up FAQs on Grand Theft Auto, you’ll know what I mean. Some guides are clear cut in providing directions and instructions. Others, just add frustration, i.e. someone mistakenly writing “left” instead of “right” when giving tips on how to escape a maze. This is where videos bridge the gap. When it comes to videos, a lot of subject matter is covered in one sweep. You can have footage of someone not only beating a boss, but doing it in the quickest time possible while also taking no damage. At the same time, this indirectly encourages viewers to join in if they feel they could do better. All in all, it certainly beats having to spend hours reading text to invoke such revelations versus spending maybe 5-10 minutes watching a vid. This has evolved to the uploading of complete playthroughs and an advent of social networking.

Going further, a lot of competitive genres today have gained their dominance from the use of videos. This includes FPS, RTS, and, especially, fighting games. As a long time fighting gamer, I have to give credit to the fact that if it wasn’t for tournament and combo videos, I would’ve already quit. When someone talks, or writes to you, about a fighting game, be it strategy, combos, tier explanation, or bugs, unless you have the game right in front of you for visual reference, you can only retain so much. Videos have undoubtedly helped competitive gamers further their quest in maintaining their respective communities and scenes, while at the same time helping players of varying experience to learn and grow as one. And above all else, nothing beats witnessing, from home, the wonder of gamers worldwide demonstrating their skill and prowess while their focus is placed in the hot seat. To those within these communities, just think, if S.978 is passed it could mean the end of Tragic’s fantastic combo guides, the end of Tom Brady’s insightful videos, no more CrossCounterTv, and no more live tournament streams from iPLAYWINNER and Team Sp00ky.

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Branching off from this is expression. It’s understandable that not everyone enjoys reading up on a review or a preview, where visual stimuli could be used. Organizations such as IGN and Gamespot have their bases covered, but there are average joes who don’t mind piecing together footage to convey their opinion. While not everyone has writing prowess, there are a number who demonstrate a talent for video editing and communicate best when speaking. Being able to communicate through any medium about any passion is a right that we’re all entitled to; it is the foundation of independent game journalism. But if S.978 passes as is, could this mean that large events, such as E3, might enforce restrictions on whom they allow inside? Could indie journalists and non-represented bloggers/vloggers expect a future of entry hassles, or complete denial of access? Would the voices of many be heavily filtered by the mere representation of the select few? I shudder to think…

Videos also maintain our gamer timeline. Not everyone still has an NES, SNES, Genesis, or a computer that can run old school DOS games. When I want to remember a long lost title such as King’s Quest, Doom, or Super Mario Bros., watching mainstream footage that only lasts 5 seconds does not do it justice. If anything, YouTube has unwittingly conceived a museum showcasing a part of our world history through games.

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Last, but certainly not least, video games and videos have birthed a new entertainment medium: Machinima, and its respective site. While the lamer would dismiss it as fan labor, machinima has created a new point of entry for independent filmmakers and graphic designers. Many may know of Rooster Teeth’s Red Vs. Blue, and today we have more filmmakers utilizing the potentials of, to name a few, Grand Theft Auto and Minecraft like Yeardly Diamond and Sanity Not Included. Then there are those who just want to give us a good laugh with their playthroughs like How To Annoy Black Ops and Two Best Friends Play. Restriction of comedy within our community is, to put it lightly, abominable.

When you factor all of the above, what it all boils down to is a healthy supplement that has kept the gaming industry vibrant and alive. Streams and videos have promoted scores of titles with positive results. Gamers are given more than enough to help them gauge whether or not to purchase a product and the companies are benefited in return. The video medium is the definite cause of today’s larger attention to video games, with the industry’s thriving development being nothing short of miraculous in today’s economy. Two to three decades prior, not many were willing to take it seriously as it was a behind-closed-doors hobby that the masses regarded in the same light as bottle-ship building.

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Though the government’s only intention was to eliminate the unauthorized streaming and uploading of TV shows, music, and movies onto the net, the choice of wording (proofread twice as detailed on the bill) is unacceptable. If you don’t care about how this is affecting video games, reread the quoted line above. Just think, a YouTube video of your 5 year old niece singing a Beyonce song could be used as evidence against your family in federal court. Then comes the possibility of five years jail time. How ridiculous is that? Take a stand, write to your local congressman or petition here. Vote no or let it be known that the bill must be reworded. Remember, we’ve all come so far and there is a reason why we celebrate Independence Day.

Please be sure to also read the follow up, for all your clarification needs.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in August 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @S_Chyou.

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