Coronavirus Relief Bill Makes Illegal Streaming a Felony

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Disney/Marvel Studios/LucasFilm

The long-awaited coronavirus relief bill, purportedly aimed to help Americans and their small businesses as the Chinese coronavirus continues to grip the nation, would make illegal streaming a felony — a special interest gift to the entertainment industry.

The $900 billion piece, combined with a $1.4 trillion government spending bill for a total of $2.3 trillion, extends a hand to Hollywood by making streaming for commercial profit a felony, carrying a punishment of up to ten years in prison. The addition has been attributed to Republican Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who earlier this month released the text of legislation, the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act, which would “punish large-scale criminal streaming services that willfully and for commercial advantage or private financial gain offer to the public illicit services dedicated to illegally streaming copyrighted material.”

His original proposal would apply to commercial, for-profit services and would not impact individuals who “access pirated streams or unwittingly stream unauthorized copies of copyrighted works.”

“Individuals who might use pirate streaming services will not be affected,” the release stated at the time. “The shift toward streaming content online has resulted in criminal streaming services illegally distributing copyrighted material that costs the U.S. economy nearly $30 billion every year, and discourages the production of creative content that Americans enjoy.”

“This commonsense legislation was drafted with the input of creators, user groups, and technology companies and is narrowly targeted so that only criminal organizations are punished and that no individual streamer has to worry about the fear of prosecution,” Tillis added.

The text of the bill released on Monday reads in part:

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:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

Penalties include fines and imprisonment for up to ten years.

The spending bill is 5,593-pages long, prompting several lawmakers to note the impossibility of reading the entire piece of legislation prior to voting later Monday evening.

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