White House: Pirated Video Streams Are Ongoing Concern

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The threat to streaming services from digital pirates remains an ongoing concern, according to the Trump Administration, and one that requires a concerted global effort to combat. 

That is according to the White House's latest--and this Administration's last--annual report to Congress on the state of intellectual property protection.

"Global sales and use of ISDs [illicit streaming devices] is growing and poses a direct threat to content creators, sports leagues, and live performances, as well as legitimate streaming, on-demand, and over-the-top media service providers," the report said. 

Also Read: NCTA Says Getting Tough on Streaming Pirates Is Critical

The Administration pointed to its Operation Intangibles as an example of the U.S. commitment to stop digital piracy. 

That is the work product of a fall 2020 memorandum of understanding  (MOU) signed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations(HSI) National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and the Motion Picture Association, aimed at "developing comprehensive strategies to coordinate public- and private-sector efforts that disrupt and combat all forms of digital piracy."

ICE has said that IP theft has topped $1 billion requires such a global response, pointing out that IP theft fuels organized, sometimes violent, crime, not to mention depriving U.S. TV and movie companies and their workers of earned income.

The  January 2021 report was a bit behind the curve on one big streaming issue. It said that the majority of the Administration's legislative recommendation on IP enforcement were enacted into law, "with the exception of felony penalties for copyright infringement by online streaming."

In fact, the COVID-19 relief bill and government funding package the President signed into law at year's end included a provision making pirating video streams a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

That new tool in the IP protection tool-kit is a felony rap for convicted stream thieves that could mean fines and prison time.

The bill's language specifies that the fines, and up to five years in prison, apply to copyrighted streams stolen with the intent to market or promote their public performance, and by persons who "knew or should have known" it was being stolen to distribute publicly." That means it is not targeted at individuals, but digital piracy operations out to make a profit and potentially put those profits to even more nefarious uses. 

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.