“Overcriminalization” describes the trend in America – and particularly in Congress – to use the criminal law to “solve” every problem, punish every mistake (instead of making proper use of civil penalties), and coerce Americans into conforming their behavior to satisfy social engineering objectives. Criminal law is supposed to be used to redress only that conduct which society thinks deserving of the greatest punishment and moral sanction.
But as a result of rampant overcriminalization, trivial conduct is now often punished as a crime. Many criminal laws make it possible for the government to convict a person even if he acted without criminal intent (i.e., mens rea). Sentences have skyrocketed, particularly at the federal level.The Washington Post provides us with a perfect example of this creeping trend in US society and government. The criminalization of online streaming. Have you ever watched a streaming video on a site that may not have had all the proper licenses? The federal government wants to make that a felony:
You probably remember the online outrage over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) copyright enforcement proposal. Last week, the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force released a report on digital copyright policy that endorsed one piece of the controversial proposal: making the streaming of copyrighted works a felony.
As it stands now, streaming a copyrighted work over the Internet is considered a violation of the public performance right. The violation is only punishable as a misdemeanor, rather than the felony charges that accompany the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material.