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.
Bipartisan legislation I led with @SenatorLeahy to fight illegal streaming by criminal organizations will be signed into law this week. It will end commercial piracy by criminal organizations and will not apply to internet users.https://t.co/HTxp6PNhJl
— Senator Thom Tillis (@SenThomTillis) December 21, 2020
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.
This 5,593 “relief” bill is a disgusting act of negligence. #Congress doesn’t care about any of us. Included in a #COVID relief bill is pork about the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation, Felony charges for streaming, allocation of funds for new Smithsonian museums, etc. OH & you get $600
— Allan Cogan (@allancogan) December 21, 2020
I’m no lawyer, but did congress just have the audacity to make streaming music A FELONY in the COVID RELIEF BILL????
Some people are streaming to literally pay the bills right now.
$600 to live on, while they’re making >$150K a year????
Tell me I’m reading this wrong. p.2539 pic.twitter.com/iYYl8Nkr8M
— Gamer Doc (@GamerDoc_) December 21, 2020
They added the DMCA Felony shit in this bill? Are u fuckin kidding me? What does DMCA streaming have to do with Covid? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Un-fuckin-believable… #StopDMCA https://t.co/H8Xpm5dYKr
— Joao De Toledo (@Detoledo316) December 21, 2020
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.”