NewBill Would Criminalize Illegal TV Show Streaming

A bipartisan trio of Senators Thursday introduced a bill
that would make illegally streaming TV shows or movies a felony.

The bill (S. 978) was introduced by Senators
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Christopher Coons
(D-Del.), and came the same day that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D- Vt.) re-introduced
a bipartisan bill to give the government more tools to shut down Web sites that
traffic in stolen intellectual property, including TV shows and movies.

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,
The Copyright Alliance pointed out in praising the move.

In March, the Obama administration recommended that Congress
clarify that streaming illegal content, in addition to downloading it, can be a

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

The same groups, unions, studios, independent
producers, who were praising the Leahy bill lined up to salute
the Klobuchar legislation.

"While illegal downloading of our members' creative works
remains the best known method of Internet theft, illegal Internet streaming has
actually become the preferred viewing and listening experience," said a
AFTRA, SAG and others in a joint statement." Unfortunately, the law has
not kept pace with these new consumer habits.  While illegal downloading
and distribution is a felony, the illegal, willful, and commercial streaming of
films, TV programs, and music remains only a misdemeanor. [W]e applaud [the]
Senators for their leadership in today introducing legislation to remove
unwarranted obstacles to the prosecution of websites that willfully and
illegally stream valuable copyrighted works for commercial advantage or private
financial gain."

"The illegal streaming of copyrighted content is a scourge
on the independent film and television community, particularly the small and
medium-sized businesses without the resources to effectively enforce their
intellectual property rights," said Jean Prewitt, president of the
Independent Film & Television Alliance. "We strongly believe
government enforcement and consequences are the only effective remedies for
these types of illegal activities. We highly commend Senators Klobuchar
and Cornyn for this significant legislative proposal to ensure illegal
streaming is treated as seriously under the law as is illegal

The Obama administration has made protection, security
and privacy of online content a priority given its push for universal broadband
as a critical infrastructure component of the country's future.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.