Covid relief bill to make illegal streaming a felony with up to 10-year prison sentence, in landmark victory for Hollywood studios

<p>Covid relief bill to increase penalties for piracy in win for Hollywood.</p>

Covid relief bill to increase penalties for piracy in win for Hollywood.

The entertainment industry is poised for another major win from the pandemic with the proposed Covid-19 relief bill including increased penalties for companies that illegally stream copyrighted material.

Studios have been trying to pass copyright legislation to curb piracy for almost a decade since the failed 2012 Stop Online Piracy Act.

If the 5000-page Covid-19 relief package passes, buried in there will be increased penalties for illegal streaming of movies and music that could carry up to 10 years in jail, as first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

The latest win for Hollywood studios comes after California governor Gavin Newsom declared that those in the entertainment industry were essential workers and therefore exempt from the state’s strict stay-at-home orders.

The increased penalties for streaming were introduced by Senator Thom Tillis, who said in a statement that the law was targeted at commercial piracy “and will not apply to internet users”.

“The shift toward streaming content online has resulted in criminal streaming services illegally distributing copyrighted material that costs the US economy nearly $30bn every year, and discourages the production of creative content that Americans enjoy,” Mr Tillis said.

Mr Tillis’ comments came as news of the provision began prompting observers to ask what online streaming had to do with a global pandemic of mutating coronaviruses.

The bill proposes criminal penalties for companies that willfully offer a digital remission service for “commercial of private financial gain”, including fines and prison sentences.

Also included the Covid bill is the creation of a small claims court for copyright holders to have their claims adjudicated within the US Copyright Office, outside of the federal court system. The Senate previously blocked the CASE Act that set up external dispute systems.

The bill also includes an extension of Section 181, a tax provision that allows for an immediate deduction of TV and film production costs up to $15m, THR reports.

Veteran GOP pollster and strategist, Frank Luntz, responded to the bill on Twitter to ask what it had to do with Covid-19.

Public Knowledge, an advocacy group for an open internet, supported the “felony streaming” provision as not targeting individuals.

“As a general matter, we do not see the need for further criminal penalties for copyright infringement,” said senior policy counsel Meredith Rose in a statement.

“However, this bill is narrowly tailored and avoids criminalising users, who may do nothing more than click on a link, or upload a file. It also does not criminalise streamers who may include unlicensed works as part of their streams.”

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