Could streaming copyrighted content soon be a felony?

Whether or not Congress implements the changes, and how they do it, is another story entirely.Please forgive the click-baity title, but recent comments by the acting deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division make it clear that there is a push for harsher penalties for streaming copyrighted material. Whether or not Congress implements the changes, and how they do it, is another story entirely.

The specific actions that David Bitkower is referring to here involve piracy, most likely of pirated films, but the message is clear: they want to increase the penalties for illegal streaming above the current misdemeanor level (less than one year in prison) to a felony (one year of prison or more).

The current penalties:

Currently, the penalty for downloading pirated content is a felony, but that is distinct from streaming. In the context of piracy, the distinction makes no sense. It is probably the transient nature of a stream that keeps the penalties distinct. However, with a recommendation from the Justice Department that Congress erase this distinction, we could potentially see legislative action on this front sooner than later.

Criminal charges like this are solely for government authorities to bring. Of course, civil penalties would still exist for the copyright holders themselves. Whether the activities of a streamer would rise to the level of government attention is slim, but stranger things have happened. We’ve already had a legislative move away from requiring commercial benefit in order to bring criminal copyright infringement charges.

In Congress’s hands now:

The Justice Department, in urging Congress to make this change, says that it could be narrow in scope.The Justice Department, in urging Congress to make this change, says that it could be narrow in scope. We won’t know until the law is written, however, what exactly it will cover. As the EFF says, those who are relying on Fair Use in order to stream copyrighted content had better be pretty sure of it. Again, there is a slim chance that Twitch streamers would be implicated by such a law, but I suggest writing letters to Congress to avoid the possibility entirely.

photo credit: banspy via photopin cc

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