The lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and work- or school-from-home arrangements during this year’s global pandemic have, among other things, sparked vast upticks in digital streaming services, subscriptions and video streaming.

With movie theaters closed, music halls shuttered and sports events either canceling, barring fans or drastically reducing attendance levels, services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and Disney+ have thrived, signing up new subscribers. While most people long for return to human interaction in these erstwhile social settings, streaming and online connectivity have brought movies, music and more into our sequestered existence.

This streaming surge has also highlighted a gaping loophole in copyright law. The "streaming loophole" allows content pirates unlawfully to infringe copyrighted material, merely facing misdemeanor punishment. The same pirated content downloaded or viewed on a bootlegged DVD carries felony penalties, including imprisonment and heavy fines. The difference lies in the law applying to public performance of copyrighted content, rather than the law relating to its reproduction or distribution.

As a result, the streaming loophole enables criminal copyright infringement by one technology to be exploited due to lesser legal stakes. The artists and creators still lose the fruits of their labor. As the register of copyrights put it, “Under this system, criminal streaming piracy, no matter the dollar amount it involves or the number of works affected, is de facto treated as a lesser crime than the illegal downloading or reproduction of the exact same content” (emphasis in original).

The streaming loophole should be near the top of Congress’s Christmas-lame duck list. It’s easily fixed and a well-documented, widely known assault on intellectual property rights.

How big a problem?

MUSO, a research firm, reported that streaming sites accounted for 96.1% of TV program piracy, reaching almost 190 billion visits to piracy streaming sites in 2018. MUSO found “film piracy increased by over 40% when [COVID-19] lockdown measures were enforced.”

The Global Innovation Policy Center has estimated U.S. industry revenues lost to digital piracy between $29 billion and $71 billion annually — or an 11% to 24% whack to revenues. That loss translates to between almost $46 billion to $111 billion of lost U.S. GDP.

The Regulatory Transparency Project of the Federalist Society has noted, “Streaming piracy directly substitutes for legitimate content.” Thus, streaming pirated content, be it movies, TV programs, music, games or something else, packs an economic wallop on creators, actors, support personnel in production and distribution, investors and IP owners. It reduces innovation and reinvestment in future creative projects, while trimming consumers’ choices of artists, offerings, services, legitimate content outlets and market competition through quality and price.

Illegal websites offering free popular content — like “well-known movies, popular TV shows, big-league sports, and absorbing games” — often sneak malware onto your computer or device. The Federal Trade Commission tried “free” movies from five websites; all installed malware. Malware puts you at risk because it will “bombard you with ads, take over your computer, or steal your personal information.”

Clearly, the streaming loophole should be nailed shut because the streaming loophole diminishes copyright owners’ property rights, hurts our creative industries, robs from our economy and harms consumers. And streaming pirated content is against the law.

Updated: Nov 19

It’s open season.

This doesn’t refer to deer or duck hunting season. Nor to Christmas sales or Christmas movie marathon season. Nor to this college football season, where overrated teams from prissy conferences perversely occupied real estate in the rankings despite not playing for months.

Nor even does it refer to an election season for taking back congressional seats that fell in the blip of 2018 to “moderates” who quickly showed they were lying. And it sure doesn’t refer to the infestation of domestic enemies — “protestors,” anarchists, socialists, antipolice and “woke” Jacobins.

It’s open season for Americans to select health coverage for next year.

Working stiffs either go through their employer or are forced into the Obamacare funnel. The “exchange” makes this process more complicated, more bureaucratic and unnecessarily burdensome than pre-Obamacare private-sector options for shopping for a health plan.

Until the Trump administration and a GOP Congress relaxed some of the red tape and expanded health insurance options, premiums skyrocketed each year for Obama-Biden government-dictated plans. And the coverage and benefits got crummier and crummier.

That’s the reality of Obamacare. A Biden administration plans to bring back this nightmare. It will add a range of government-controlled elements, such as price controls and monopsony strong-arming.

However, Medicare beneficiaries today have real choices for coverage. Even Obamacare’s power grab of a big chunk of America’s health system largely kept consumer choice and plan competition intact in Medicare.

President George W. Bush and bipartisan supporters in Congress made that possible through the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act. MMA created Part C, or Medicare Advantage, and Part D drug coverage.

MMA intentionally designed Parts C and D to foster private plans’ competition and give seniors private plan choices in Medicare. These programs have expanded seniors’ options beyond one-size-fits-all Medicare, Parts A and B.

Original, fee-for-service Medicare remains rigidly micromanaged by federal bureaucrats. Complex rules and regulations, fee schedules and coverage decisions result in hospital and physician benefits that fall short of beneficiaries’ needs. Seniors in conventional Medicare typically buy supplemental insurance (AARP’s bread and butter).

Market-based choice and competition work. Medicare Advantage (or MA), where private health plans compete for seniors’ selection, and Part D prescription drug plans enjoy very strong satisfaction ratings.

An extraordinary 99 percent of MA enrollees are satisfied with the care quality their plan provides. It’s easy to understand why. MA plans coordinate care, offer benefits like dental, vision and telehealth, and save seniors about $1,600 over what FFS Medicare costs seniors.

The latest Morning Consult survey found 92 percent of beneficiaries report being satisfied with their Medicare drug plan; 87 percent regard their Rx benefits as delivering good value. Also, 84 percent consider their premiums affordable, while 81 percent believe their out-of-pocket prescription costs are reasonable.

MA is the Medicare option of choice for more and more beneficiaries. Part D and MA together serve 42 million, or almost three-quarters of the Medicare population. Some 27 million seniors, 42 percent of the Medicare population, have enrolled in MA plans.

Medicare drug premiums have remained stable, while MA premiums in 2021, at $21 a month, will be as low as 2007.

Making lemons out of lemonade, the New York Times recently spun the fact that many Medicare beneficiaries don’t do deep-dive MA or Part D plan comparisons. The screed asserted the not-subtle point that this is somehow bad.

Hey, Big Apple Einstein, we’re talking satisfaction rates in the 80s and 90s! Common sense leads one to expect satisfied consumers not to do much shopping around for an alternative.

Open season for Medicare Advantage and Part D is pretty calm because the competitive, market-based parts of Medicare are performing as designed. Hopefully, big-government zealots won’t ruin it.

Updated: Oct 29

As Election Day nears, highly charged political turmoil swirls. It’s time we focus on what matters most. Elections aren’t personality-based popularity contests. They’re choices between different policy agendas — this year, stark policy differences.

Using property rights as the lens, the differences between candidates for president, Senate and Congress, and state and local office come into stark relief.

For example, Montana Democrat Steve Bullock indicates he’ll back increasing the number of U.S. Supreme Court justices — court packing — now an article of radical leftist faith. The intent is to ensure liberal or worse judicial outcomes, the rule of law be damned. This will threaten Americans’ property rights.

This from a “moderate” who’s already discovered it’s in his interest to go along with whatever Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer demands. The same will happen to Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison and other “moderates.”

Scandalous dealings involving China and his son Hunter with Joe’s knowledge aside, Joe Biden comes across as the more conventional politician seeking the White House. But the high price for peace in his party with the Bernie Sanders-AOC wing amounts, at best, to Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement with Adolph Hitler. Ultimately, the bad guys get their way.

The “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations” leaves little to the imagination of where a Biden administration will go. It doubles down on anti-property rights, Obama-Biden policies — and dramatically extends that regime: forcing the Green Raw Deal and extremely disruptive shifts in energy and other key sectors of our economy, reregulating everything, a “public option” health plan and socialistic government price controls that lead inexorably to government takeover of health care, expanding federal land holdings and closing off public property to practical benefit, going soft on crime and hard against police, raising taxes and imposing new taxes on entrepreneurial individuals and on employers. You can kiss your property rights goodbye.

Now, many people find President Trump’s aggressive, blunt ways off-putting, jarring, offensive. Many regard his manner as not “presidential” or worse. They may judge the book by its cover.

We Southerners are raised to be polite, display good manners, and unfailingly treat others civilly. You’d better say “sir” and “ma’am,” “please” and “thank you,” and if you can’t think of something nice to say, go with “Bless your heart.” We smile and say “hey” to strangers. People lacking such common courtesy are duly shamed. So, let’s just say the past four years, in this respect, have been hard on Southern sensibilities (and apparently too much even on the brusk, course sensibilities of much of the rest of the country).

Getting past the cover into the book’s contents, the Trump administration has improved the livelihoods of American families across the board and sparked the economy in ways not seen in decades. Mr. Trump has cut taxes, boosted family income, relieved the heavy regulatory burden (including creation of a Regulatory Bill of Rights), spurred a pre-pandemic economy that resulted in the best employment (particularly for minorities, women and those who’d given up on the job market) and household earnings growth in half a century, and launched a U.S. industrial revival that has challenged China’s centralized economy and made the U.S.A. energy-independent (Biden will force our oil industry to shut down). America now exports more oil and gas than Saudi Arabia and Russia. Meanwhile, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have fallen, thanks in part to fracking.

His Patent Office has improved patent reliability and certainty, while his Antitrust Division appropriately reset, viewing the exercise of intellectual property exclusivity as proconsumer and advancing dynamic competition. And Trump policies positioned America to rebound more quickly from the coronavirus shutdown and its damage to our surging economy.

All this adds up to tremendous, positive results based largely on market and property-rights principles. To anyone basing their votes on book covers rather than on book contents, there’s just one thing to say: Bless your heart.

Locke's Notebook

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