US Proposes to Make Illegal Streaming Punishable by Imprisonment

Written by Samuel O’Toole | December 23, 2020


Covid has changed the world we live in, our commutes have got shorter and in person meetings are so last year. In the US, lawmakers have been seeking to address the upset to business that Covid has caused, the vehicle for this is proposed as the Covid-19 relief bill aka the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 for short.

The proposed bill suggests a number of wide ranging changes, however of particular interest to us is the proposal to make illegal streaming by commercial parties a felony. If the bill is voted through, those who illegally stream works for commercial profit could be imprisoned for up to ten years.

Meredith Rose, Senior Policy Counsel explained that:

“As a general matter, we do not see the need for further criminal penalties for copyright infringement. 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 Hollywood Reporter details that this is not the first time imprisonment for illegal streaming has been considered in the US. About ten years ago a similar proposal was made by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar – back then the US was more concerned about not committing Justin Bieber to prison and so Ms Klobuchar proposal did not make any progress.

The Covid-19 relief bill takes aim at commercial operators as opposed to individual users as Ms Klobuchar’s did.

In the UK, criminal proceedings for copyright infringement can be brought in a range of circumstances. For example, if a person knowingly communicates a copyright work to the public without the permission of the copyright owner, that person could be liable to two year stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Other criminal copyright offences with regards to physical goods, such as distributing a work in the course of business are punishable by a maximum of ten years in prison.

In 2017, a person selling illegal TV boxes which allowed users to stream pay to view TV was sentences to a ten month sentence suspended for two years and £500,000 in fines/costs.

Overall whilst on the face of it, a ten year prison sentence for illegal streaming in the US does seem rather harsh – we’ve been offering similar rewards for copyright infringers in the UK for quite some time now.

Is your work being exploited without your permission, have you been threatened with copyright infringement proceedings or would you simply like to discuss all things copyright, if yes then why not contact us and one of our expert lawyers will be more than happy to provide you with a free consultation.

Written by Sam O’Toole, Solicitor

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