US Senator proposes illegal streaming legislation

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Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, has released text of bipartisan legislation that would punish large-scale criminal streaming services that wilfully and for commercial advantage or private financial gain offer to the public illicit services dedicated to illegally streaming copyrighted material.

The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act would apply only to commercial, for-profit streaming piracy services. The law will not sweep in normal practices by online service providers, good faith business disputes, non-commercial activities, or in any way impact individuals who access pirated streams or unwittingly stream unauthorised copies of copyrighted works. Individuals who might use pirate streaming services will not be affected.

“The shift toward streaming content online has resulted in criminal streaming services illegally distributing copyrighted material that costs the US economy nearly $30 billion every year, and discourages the production of creative content that Americans enjoy,” said Tillis. “This common sense legislation was drafted with the input of creators, user groups, and technology companies and is narrowly targeted so that only criminal organisations are punished and that no individual streamer has to worry about the fear of prosecution. That’s why groups as diverse as CCIA and Public Knowledge are neutral on this proposal,” he concluded.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), John Cornyn (R-TX), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and David Perdue (R-GA).

Under current US law, only violations of the reproduction and distribution rights of copyright owners can be charged as felonies, while criminal infringement via streaming (or “publicly performing”) can only be charged as a misdemeanour. This is known as the streaming loophole – and it is particularly harmful to the US economy because streaming has become the most common form of criminal copyright infringement.

Tillis suggests the bipartisan, consensus legislation will provide the Department of Justice with the authority to bring felony charges against a digital transmission service that:

  • is primarily designed or provided for the purpose of streaming copyrighted works without the authority of the copyright owner or the law; or
  • has no commercially significant purpose or use other than to stream copyrighted works without the authority of the copyright owner or the law; or
  • is intentionally marketed by or at the direction of that person to promote its use in streaming copyrighted works without the authority of the copyright owner or the law.

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