How Justin Bieber Became the Public Face of Copyright Reform (Analysis)

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A few days ago, we wrote about Fight for the Future, a not-for-profit that started a campaign and website called  "Free Bieber," warning that pop star Justin Bieber could face five years in prison if copyright laws were amended. A lot has happened since, so it's time to update.

Fight for the Future expresses concern about S. 978,  which would make unauthorized web streaming of copyrighted work a felony, and says Bieber's freedom is at stake.

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The group points out that Bieber became famous as a result of posting covers of popular R&B songs to YouTube, which might be true, but hardly constitutes illegal streaming under the proposed legislation. Here's why Bieber is safe from jail even if the law passes.

After the website got attention, the singer's reps became upset over how the singer was being used as a prop. So Bieber's lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to shut down "Free Bieber," arguing that the website itself was violating his trademark, privacy and publicity rights, doing things like promising the arrival of "Free Bieber" t-shirts with the teen star shown behind jail bars. Several music artist guilds also have opposed the "Free Bieber" movement, arguing that the proposed bill actually helps artists like Bieber.

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Fight for the Future retained the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the nonprofit legal advocacy group, which returned fire with a reply that makes the case that no laws have been broken in the operation of "Free Bieber." 

The EFF dismisses trademark allegations because it's a political website that makes fair use of the term "Justin Bieber," rejects a privacy claim because "we cannot fathom how this political campaign in any way intrudes on any privacy right your extremely public client might assert," and says there's no publicity rights violation because of free speech.

In other words, groups should be allowed to hold up celebrities to make political points.

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Then, Bieber got on the radio and made statements that make us question whether his reps are really consulting with him on these issues.

A radio host introduced Bieber to the proposed legislation -- not really doing a great job, in our opinion -- and Bieber responded that the lawmaker who crafted the bill "needs to be locked up." The law was proposed by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Bieber made the comment as if this was the first time he's heard about these issues. Is he being used as a prop by both sides of the issue? Here's the audio.

Twitter: @eriqgardner