U.S. Budget Stop-Gap Bill Contains Proposal to Make Streaming Copyrighted Material a Felony

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis has put forth a felony streaming proposal as an attachment to the omnibus spending bill that would give the Justice Department authority to charge “commercial enterprises” streaming copyrighted works to be charged with “felony copyright infringement,” according to Politico

The text of that legislation has not yet been made public, but the general consensus of opponents of the measure is that it would be used to take aim at individuals who stream content on platforms such as Twitch, Facebook Gaming, YouTube, and TikTok

Tillis’ motives have been called into question by watchdog groups, who claim he is motivated by campaign contributions from the music and entertainment industry.

The “felony streaming” proposal is one of three pro-copyright rightsholder bills being attached to the stop-gap budget bill to keep the government from shutting down Friday. The other two are the CASE Act, which would create a new court within the U.S. Copyright Office for expediting copyright claims, and the Trademark Modernization Act, that would crack down on “fraudulent trademark filings from foreign countries.” 

In a post on social media, Tillis said that a report in Prospect is “false” and “inaccurate” in that the proposal does not target individuals who stream, but commercial entities:

This article is false and inaccurate,” the North Carolina senator wrote on Twitter. “The proposal is narrowly tailored and only allows DOJ to prosecute commercial criminal organizations, not individual streamers. It’s drafted to not sweep in normal practices by online service providers and good faith business disputes.”

In a subsequent tweet he added, “That’s why tech groups like CCIA and public user groups like Public Knowledge have not come out against the proposal and in fact have no concerns with its substance.” 

But several groups, including Public Knowledge and Computer & Communications Industry Association have come out against the proposal. A letter sent last week addressed to leaders of the House and Senate signed by several advocacy groups expressed grave concerns over the inclusion of the CASE Act, the Trademark Modernization Act, and the felony streaming proposal to an omnibus spending bill, which needs to be passed before the Dec. 11 government shutdown deadline:

“As creators, innovators, small businesses, online service providers, libraries, educators, and civil society organizations, we are concerned with including controversial copyright or trademark bills in a must-pass piece of legislation,” the letter reads, in part. “We respect Congress’s intent to improve our intellectual property system and protect the rights of creators and entrepreneurs. However, certain aspects of this package of bills will have negative impacts on small- and medium-sized businesses, creators, libraries and their patrons, students, teachers, educational institutions, religious institutions, fan communities, internet users, and free expression.”

The letter was signed by advocacy groups including the Computer & Communications Industry Association, American Library Association, Association of College Research Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Internet Archive, Medical Library Association, Public Knowledge, and many others.

Tillis’ motives on these and other bills have been called into question by advocacy groups, who point out that he received a number of donations directly and through his political action committee from pro-entertainment industry groups and companies in Q3 and Q4 of this year. 

It should be noted that taking money from companies and advocacy groups, particular in the music and entertainment industry is a bipartisan affair. For example, Christopher Dodd, the former democratic senator from Connecticut, took money from the entertainment industry and pushed pro-rightsholder bills and treaties during his time in office. After he retired in 2011 he was hired by the Motion Picture Association of America as its president, a position he held until 2017.

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