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COVID Relief Bill to Make Illegal Streaming a Felony

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Buried deep within the COVID relief and government funding bill—on page 2539, to be exact—is a provision that would make illegal streaming a felony, with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Section 211 of the bill, titled "Unauthorized Streaming," says that "It shall be unlawful for a person to willfully, and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, offer to provide the public a digital transmission service" that streams content protected under section 106 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code, which covers copyrights for public performances of movies, television shows, and music.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the Protect Lawful Streaming Act, which is more narrow than the one proposed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in 2011. It targets illegal streaming "for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain," leaving most individual streamers in the clear.

Tillis issued a statement on December 10 saying that the act would only apply to to "commercial, for-profit streaming piracy services" and that "individuals who might use pirate streaming services will not be affected."

"The shift toward streaming content online has resulted in criminal streaming services illegally distributing copyrighted material that costs the U.S. economy nearly $30 billion every year, and discourages the production of creative content that Americans enjoy," Tillis said in the statement. "This commonsense legislation was drafted with the input of creators, user groups, and technology companies and is narrowly targeted so that only criminal organizations are punished and that no individual streamer has to worry about the fear of prosecution. That’s why groups as diverse as CCIA and Public Knowledge are neutral on this proposal."

The legislation is co-sponsored by Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA), both of whom are up for re-election a hotly contested recount contest in Georgia, as well as Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), John Cornyn (R-TX), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Chris Coons (D-DE).

The bill passed the House by a vote of 359-13 and the Senate by a vote of 92-6, but President Trump is demanding changes to both the COVID relief portion of the bill and the omnibus spending portion.

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