Bill Makes the Streaming of Unauthorized Works a Felony

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Following the release in March of a white paper prepared by the Obama Administration that, among other recommendations, calls for the addition of streaming to the list of copyright infringing activities that are felonies under U.S. law, the Senate Judiciary Committee last week passed The Commercial Felony Streaming Act (S. 978), which now heads to the full Senate for approval.

The legislation amends Section 2319 of Title 18 and Section 506 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code, which define the types of infringing behavior that rise to the level of criminality and the penalties that apply. Currently, it is a felony to illegally reproduce or distribute copyrighted works, including downloading, but only if it is for commercial purposes and:

* The offense consists of 10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works; and

* The total retail value of the performances, or the total economic value of such public performances to the infringer or to the copyright owner, would exceed $2,500; or

* The total fair market value of licenses to offer performances of those works would exceed $5,000.

Violations could result in fines and/or jail terms of up to five years.

As noted by TechDirt, the move to address streaming comes on the heels of an attempt by the Administration—specifically, the Justice Department's office in the Southern District of New York—to extradite a British student to the United States for running a website called TVShack, which was been seized and taken offline by Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) over a year ago.

TVShack did not host any content itself but linked to content contained on other sites. What makes the attempt to extradite 23-year-old Richard O'Dwyer so controversial for some is the fact that the criminal activities being alleged against him are considered legal in the U.K. That has led to charges of overreach by the U.S. government, not only with respect to the extradition attempt but also its unilateral closure of allegedly infringing websites.