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Bills To Punish For-Profit, Piracy Services & Resolve Copyright Claims Part Of Congressional Spending Package

Individuals who watch pirated streams won't go to jail, but it will be a felony for those who operate for-profit piracy services.

Congress has passed the $900 billion COVID relief bill that is being packaged with the $1.4 trillion government spending bill to create a $2.3 trillion behemoth of a bill. It still needs to be signed by the president. Included is the Save Our Stages Act that will help struggling venues, independent movie theaters and concert halls stay afloat during the pandemic. As is always the case with these bills that have been rushed without much debate or time to read, there are tons of provisions and tax credits getting plenty of scrutiny. Two of them have been around for a little while, but are now being shoehorned into this package to avoid being sunk on their own. The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act has gotten the most headlines over the past few days and some of them not all correct.

The bill, which has been a dream of Hollywood and major label music business for years, will make it a felony for commercial operators of for-profit piracy services. According to a press release by Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, the law won’t penalize individuals who are streaming.

“The law will not sweep in normal practices by online service providers, good faith business disputes, noncommercial activities, or in any way impact individuals who access pirated streams or unwittingly stream unauthorized copies of copyrighted works. Individuals who might use pirate streaming services will not be affected.”

For the first offense, the penalties are up to three years and / or a fine. If they distributed multiple works, the jail time increases to a maximum of five years. Second and subsequent violations increase the penalties to a maximum of 10 years and / or a fine.

The legislation was led by Tillis & Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and co-introduced by Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), John Cornyn (R-TX), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), David Perdue (R-GA), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

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The bill’s proponents say that commercial piracy costs U.S. economy nearly $30 billion per year.

You don’t need to be afraid that you will get sent to jail for watching a sports game on the high seas. However, what is more likely is that some of the services that provide the links to watch fights, movies and TV shows may get shut down, if they operate out of the US.

Some of this is getting conflated with the CASE ACT, which is another bill being added to the larger spending package. It creates the Copyright Claims Board in the Copyright Office, “which shall serve as an alternative forum in which parties may voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims regarding any category of copyrighted work.” The Library of Congress, with consultation with the register of copyrights, will appoint the three members of the board.

The court would work to resolve copyright infringement claims. Holders would get up to $30,000, exclusive of attorney’s costs, if found that their work was shared illegally online. All information from the claims proceedings, except for the final determinations would be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests. So if a large company takes hundreds of people to court of over small videos, we would not know how those cases are determined until the final outcome. Those who are in favor of the bill say that this will make it easier bring about claims without going to court in expensive and lengthy cases that can be more costly than the payouts.

Not everyone is super excited by the law. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future argue it could allow ordinary internet users to get sued for very banal things like sharing memes or short videos.

“The CASE Act is a terribly written law that will threaten ordinary Internet users with huge fines for everyday online activity. It’s absurd that lawmakers included these provisions in a must-pass spending bill,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement Monday via The Verge. “We’re facing a massive eviction crisis and millions are unemployed due to the pandemic, but Congressional leaders could only muster $600 stimulus checks for COVID relief, but managed to cram in handouts for content companies like Disney?”

As we have seen with other copyright laws, the internet is rife with infringement on a basic level, but it is how those laws are applied. It rarely feels as though they are applied evenly or fairly, often with big companies going after small outfits or individuals. We will see when this passes how they are applied. 

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