Illegal Streaming Would Become Felony Under Proposed Bill

video piracy
(Image credit: iStock)

UPDATE 12/21, 8:50 a.m.: The spending bill looks like it will be passed by Congress, though it is unclear at this time if the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act is officially included in the bill. 

WASHINGTON—The punishment for illegally streaming content could soon be more severe, as a new bill currently before Congress would increase the penalty of streaming pirated content from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020, which was introduced by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and has bipartisan support, says that any persons who “willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or financial gain” provide public digital transmission services of copyrighted works will have committed a felony act. The bill is currently attached to the omnibus spending bill under consideration by Congress.

According to a blog post from Seth Cooper of The Free State Foundation, under the existing law piracy of online content is classified only as a misdemeanor, while other forms of piracy, like downloading content, are considered felonies. Cooper says that streaming, which is becoming the most popular way for consumers to view content, is also becoming the predominant form of online piracy through “stream-ripping” websites and apps as well as illegal Internet Protocol Television services.

PLUS: Nearly 40% of Consumers Commit Video Piracy, Per Hub Survey

Citing an August 2020 Digital Citizens Alliance report, Cooper says that an estimated $1 billion in U.S. subscription revenues were generated by illegal IPTV services, with about 9 million subscribers to these services.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have increased the popularity of illegal streaming piracy, Cooper adds. Tracking firm Muso found a 43% surge in American visits to movie pirating sites during the last week of March 2020 compared to a month earlier, Cooper writes.

“Under existing law, criminals who operate illegal IPTV streaming services can only be charged with misdemeanor infringement, not felony infringement,” Cooper says. “As a result, operators of these illegal streaming services face less severe penalties than operators of online piracy sites for downloading copyrighted movies and music. There obviously is no reason for this disparity in the law.”

Read Cooper’s full blog on The Free State Foundation website