New COVID-19 Stimulus Bill Includes Language Making Illegal Streaming a Felony
Many in the U.S. will see additional pandemic relief now that Congress has finally passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the stimulus package that will provide aid to music venues as well as individuals. But the language of the bill also includes a provision making illegal streaming a felony.
That includes up to 10 years of prison time for operators of illegal streaming platforms.
The amendment was first brought to light on Monday (Dec. 21) by The Hollywood Reporter, and music fans promptly took notice of what was being called "The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act." The legislation originates from North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican, who introduced the full text of the measure earlier this month, as the lawmaker's website points out.
According to Tillis, the law "would apply only to commercial, for-profit streaming piracy services," i.e., not to any regular ol' person who merely downloads an illegal stream or happens upon pirated material online. Here's how the text of the provision looks in the 3,000+ page stimulus bill:
It shall be unlawful for a person to willfully, and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, offer or provide to the public a digital transmission service that— (1) is primarily designed or provided for the purpose of publicly performing works protected under title 17 by means of a digital transmission without the authority of the copyright owner or the law; (2) has no commercially significant purpose or use other than to publicly perform works protected under title 17 by means of a digital transmission without the authority of the copyright owner or the law; or (3) is intentionally marketed by or at the direction of that person to promote its use in publicly performing works protected under title 17 by means of a digital transmission without the authority of the copyright owner or the law.
The amendment concerned with "illicit digital transmission services" also doesn't attempt to single out individual users who may happen to include unauthorized works in their video streams or uploads. Still, it's another way for legitimate copyright holders to protect their work at large.
"As a general matter, we do not see the need for further criminal penalties for copyright infringement," said Meredith Rose of nonprofit public interest group Public Knowledge, per Kotaku. "However, this bill is narrowly tailored and avoids criminalizing users, who may do nothing more than click on a link or upload a file. It also does not criminalize streamers who may include unlicensed works as part of their streams."
The legislation outlines penalties, including fines plus prison terms of either two years or five years, for the offending operators of illegal streaming services. Further infraction could bring imprisonment of "not more than 10 years … if the offense is a second or subsequent offense."