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Senate Committee Votes to Make Illegal Streaming a Felony

Piracy is bad but streaming is a felony!

We all agree piracy is bad. But you know what's even worse? Streaming.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve making illegal streaming of video a felony in "most cases," reports The Hollywood Reporter. Dubbed "The Commercial Felony Streaming Act (S. 978)," the bill will now go to the full senate for consideration.

The bill, introduced May 12 by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Christopher Coons (D-Del.), targets illegal streaming "for commercial purposes," so you don't have to stop streaming your Colombian soccer league and toss your computer out the window just yet.

Klobuchar stressed that the bill was not "about individuals or families streaming movies at home," in an e-mail to Bloomberg. "It's about criminals streaming thousands of dollars worth of stolen digital content and profiting from it."

If passed, the bill will make illegal streaming for commercial purposes a felony punishable by up to five years in prison--if the streaming in question involves 10 or more instances of streaming copyrighted works over a 180-day period, and if the retail value of the stream exceeds $2500, or the licenses to the material are worth more than $5000.

The bill is supported by the Obama administration and most of the entertainment industry, including the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), AFTRA, Directors Guild of America, IATSE, SAG, MPAA, the Independent Film and Television Alliance, and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO).

"We commend the Committee for moving this important piece of legislation for consideration by the Senate. It will close a gaping hole in the law and go far in protecting the livelihoods of theater employees from the threat posed by illegal streaming," NATO President John Fithian told The Hollywood Reporter. "To the technicians, designers, construction workers, and artists who support their families through their work in entertainment, there's no difference between illegal downloading and illegal streaming - it's all theft that hurts their work, their wages and their benefits," he continued.

Michael O'Leary, Executive VP of Government Affairs for the MPAA, told The Hollywood Reporter that the bill will "help ensure that the punishment for these site operators fits the crime."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a champion of free speech and digital-rights, is naturally concerned with the implications of such a bill. EFF senior staff attorney Abigail Phillips told Bloomberg that "The more serious the potential penalties, the greater deterrent effect on innovation and speech activity online."

She also said that it's unclear whether the legislation might apply to Websites accused of offering illegal video, people who upload illegal video to the Web, and people who watch said videos online.

The way things seem to be going, this is a completely legitimate concern: less than a month ago in Denmark, a "bored" Pirate Bay user uploaded a torrent file to a movie to the popular torrent-swapping site and has since been fined almost $30,000. Now imagine if someone used his upload for commercial purposes--would he be liable? Certainly makes you think.

Follow Sarah on Twitter (@geeklil) or on Facebook


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