Senate Bill Gets Tough on Pirates

Washington — A bipartisan
trio of senators last week introduced
a bill that would make the
illegal streaming of TV shows or
movies a felony.

The bill (S. 978) was introduced
by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.),
John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Christopher
Coons (D-Del.), and came the
same day that Sen. Patrick Leahy (DVt.)
re-introduced a bipartisan bill
to give the government more tools
to shut down websites 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 simply 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 it is a felony to
stream illegal content, as well as to download it.

Espinel pointed out at that time that, under existing
law, it is unclear that streaming copyrighted work can
be subject to 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 and independent
producers — who praised an
anti-illegal streaming measure earlier
introduced by Leahy 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,” the
American Federation of Television
and Radio Artists, the Screen Actors
Guild and other groups said in a
joint statement. “Unfortunately, the
law has not kept pace with these new
consumer habits.”

Jean Prewitt, president of the Independent
Film & Television Alliance,
said, “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 .”

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.