Senate Committee Approves Bill to Make Illegal Streaming a Felony

Industry unions hail legislation aimed at closing a loophole in intellectual property law

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation Thursday that would make illegal online streaming of copyrighted content a felony.

It now goes to the full Senate for a vote. 

Sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX), the legislation would eliminate the legal distinction between unauthorized streaming and downloading. Its supporters say it will clarify intellectual property law, as sites that offer illegal downloads of movies and shows face stricter penalties than those that simply stream content.

Also read: Anti-Piracy Bill Passes Committee; Senator's Objections May Derail It

Under the current law, streaming is considered a "public performance," not a “reproduction” of a copyrighted work.

The entertainment industry contends that without upping the severity of the offense from a misdemeanor, websites will continue to offer unsanctioned copies of films and television shows, robbing studios of important revenues. The new streaming bill would apply in cases in which a website operator has willfully and knowingly violated a copyright and profited from it, and does not allow law enforcement to prosecute people who stream videos without intending to profit.

Under pressure from the entertainment industry, the Senate has launched a two pronged attack on piracy. Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would give the Justice Department the power to block foreign websites that violate copyright laws Called the PROTECT IP Act, it would prevent U.S. credit card companies and advertisers from accepting business from sites that distribute movies and television shows illegally. 

Industry unions hailed the Senate's efforts to crack down on illegal streaming on Thursday.

“We commend the committee for moving this important piece of legislation for consideration by the Senate,” said National Assn. of Theater Owners President and CEO John Fithian. “It will close a gaping hole in the law and go far in protecting the livelihoods of theater employees from the threat posed by illegal streaming.”

After the act was introduced on the Senate floor, the Directors Guild, AFTRA, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, the American Federation of Musicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters released the following statement:

“The Commercial Felony Streaming Act, together with the PROTECT IP Act that was also passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee three weeks ago, is critical to the ability of law enforcement to actively and effectively combat the online theft of our members’ work. 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. This legislation is an important step forward in our efforts to stem the rising tide of Internet theft that threatens our members’ very livelihoods.”