Criminal Penalties Toughened for Illegal Streaming of Copyrighted Content
Hidden in the December 2020 COVID-19 relief bill was legislation designed to increase the criminal penalties for unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content. The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act amends federal law related to stolen property by adding Section 2319C, which levies heavy penalties for illicit digital transmission services or streaming. Under the new act, “[i]t shall be unlawful for a person to willfully, and for purposes of commercial advantage or financial gain, offer or provide to the public a digital transmission service that:
- is primarily designed or provided for the purpose of publicly performing works protected under title 17 by means of a digital transmission without the authority of the copyright owner or the law;
- has no commercially significant purpose or use other than to publicly perform works protected under title 17 by means of a digital transmission without the authority of the copyright owner or the law; or
- is intentionally marketed by or at the direction of that person to promote its use in publicly performing works protected under title 17 by means of a digital transmission without the authority of the copyright owner or the law.”
18 U.S.C. § 2319C (2020). The new act provides penalties of up to 10 years in prison if the criminal infringement is a second or subsequent offense. Because the act is silent on copyright law, the copyright holder may also bring a civil suit for the same unlawful actions. Id. § 2319C(d).
Since copyright holders already have the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and control public performance of their copyrighted work, this act was designed to close a criminal penalty loophole. See 17 U.S.C. § 106 (1976). Illegal streaming becomes a criminal infringement primarily through the right of public performance, but the corresponding penalty was limited to a misdemeanor. See id. Thus, illegal streaming was treated as a lesser crime than downloading or reproducing the same copyrighted content, which was treated as a felony. This legislation was designed to close this loophole by assessing the same penalty for this type of public performance (i.e., streaming).
Copyright enforcement continues to evolve in the digital age. The streaming of copyrighted music, videos, and public performances has become so widespread that the laws and the courts are struggling to keep up. Hopefully, the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act is a step in the right direction for our copyright owners out there.
The text of the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act can be found at – TEXT
Dustin Mauck focuses his practice on intellectual property and technology disputes, counseling, and licensing.
RegitzMauck PLLC is an intellectual property boutique based in Dallas, Texas. The firm focuses on providing value-based legal services to cost-conscious clients seeking high quality legal representation in intellectual property, cybersecurity, and data privacy matters and disputes.