US: Illegal streaming could get 5 years jail

The US Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a measure that would make illegal streaming of video over the Internet a felony offence in some cases, and has sent the proposed legislation to the full Senate.

The Bill, S. 978, would make illegal video streaming for commercial purposes a felony punishable by as much as five years in prison if it involves 10 or more instances of streaming copyrighted works over a 180-day period. The retail value of the video must exceed $2,500, or the licences to the material must be worth more than $5,000.

The Bill was introduced May 12 by Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Christopher Coons, a Delaware Democrat. Klobuchar said the Bill wasn’t about individuals or families streaming movies at home. “It’s about criminals streaming thousands of dollars worth of stolen digital content and profiting from it.”

The Obama administration supported making illegal video streaming a felony “in appropriate circumstances” in a set of recommendations released March 15 for fighting the illegal sale of pirated products and content.

In addition, Maria Pallante, director of the US Copyright Office, also backed making illegal streaming a felony in a June 1 House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, saying that treating the offence as a misdemeanour gives prosecutors little incentive to file charges in such cases.

The Copyright Alliance, a Washington-based group whose members include NBC Universal, Time Warner, and Viacom, said it “applauds” the vote. “The distribution of other people’s work without their permission should be punished the same way under the law regardless of the technology used,” said Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital-rights group, has expressed concern that the measure may constrain free speech. “The more serious the potential penalties, the greater deterrent effect on innovation and speech activity online,” said Abigail Phillips, a senior staff attorney for the body.

She said it was unclear whether the legislation would apply to websites accused of offering illegal video, people who upload illegal video to such sites, or people who “press play” to watch such videos online.

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