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Felony Streaming Bill Passes Out of Judiciary

S. 978, the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday on a voice vote -- with no amendments. The bill clarifies that it is a crime to stream pirated TV shows or movies.

It is the second bill in three weeks the committee has approved that attempts to take a bite out of the business of the online distribution of pirated TV shows and videos -- the committee approved the PROTECT IP Act three weeks ago.

S.978 was introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Christopher Coons (D-Del.) last month.

It is already a felony to download or upload that content, so the bill would just extend that to streaming, a recommendation made by White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel.

In March, the Obama administration recommended that Congress clarify that streaming illegal content, in addition to downloading it, can be a felony. Espinel pointed out at that time that, under existing law, it is unclear that streaming copyrighted work can be subject to a felony penalties because such penalties are "predicated on the defendant either illegally reproducing or distributing the copyrighted work." While, intuitively, streaming would seem to pretty clearly be distribution, there has been some legal question about that designation."

Klobuchar and company are looking to clear up that point.

The same groups, unions, studios, independent producers, who were praising the PROTECT IP vote lined up again to salute this bill's passage through committee.

"We commend the Senate Judiciary Committee for passing S. 978, the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, out of committee," said a raft of unions in a statement. "This marks the second time in three weeks that the Senate Judiciary Committee has taken decisive action to approve legislation that can make a significant difference in fighting the scourge of online content theft."

Signing on to that statement were the American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Directors Guild of America, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada, Teamsters, and the Screen Actors Guild.