Senate group backs prison time for illegal streaming

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approves a bill that would make the streaming of copyrighted content that was illegally obtained a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill yesterday that would make it a felony to stream copyrighted content that was illegally obtained.

The bill, known as the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, addresses what some lawmakers are calling a loophole in current copyright-infringement laws. It is currently a felony to download or upload copyrighted content, but streaming is not expressly prohibited.

If the bill is eventually passed by lawmakers, streaming illegally obtained content for commercial purposes could lead to five years in prison. According to the bill, a person would be charged when the "offense consists of 10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works."

As the Motion Picture Association of America notes, the bill would apply to Web site owners who have "willfully and knowingly violated a copyright and profited from it." The organization said those who "stream videos without intending to profit" will not be subject to prosecution under this bill.

In a joint statement, several prominent entertainment groups, including the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild of America, and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, celebrated the bill's approval by the Judiciary Committee.

"Make no mistake: the illegal streaming of content for commercial or financial gain is a crime, and the Commercial Felony Streaming Act places the appropriate criminal label on the activity," according to the joint statement. "This legislation is an important step forward in our efforts to stem the rising tide of Internet theft that threatens our members' very livelihoods."

Although the bill was brought to the Senate last month by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the issue of illegal streaming had been raised in a 20-page white paper released by the Obama administration in March. The administration said it was concerned that illegal streaming of content was not covered under criminal law and requested that lawmakers draw up a new law to "clarify that infringement by streaming, or by means of other similar new technology, is a felony in appropriate circumstances."

The Obama administration has firmly been on the side of copyright holders. In early 2009, then-President-elect Barack Obama appointed to prominent positions in the Justice Department two lawyers who had defended copyright holders in the past.

Vice President Joe Biden has also been a staunch supporter of copyright holders, making that clear last year when he said that piracy is just as bad as any form of theft.

"We used to have a problem in this town saying this," Biden told reporters at a press conference in Washington, D.C last year. "But piracy is theft. Clean and simple. It's smash and grab. It ain't no different than smashing a window at Tiffany's and grabbing [merchandise]."