Proposed U.S. Law Could Slap Twitch Streamers With Felonies For Broadcasting Copyrighted Material

Proposed U.S. Law Could Slap Twitch Streamers With Felonies For Broadcasting Copyrighted Material
Image: Twitch
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The United States government is, as we all know, extremely functional. It’s so functional, in fact, that it regularly struggles to pass spending bills in order to prevent itself from shutting down. The latest “must-pass” bill, like many of its predecessors, includes controversial measures that wouldn’t be able to pass on their own, negotiated with the high stakes of this particular bill in mind. One of them would turn unauthorised streaming of copyrighted material into a felony.

According to Politico offshoot Protocol, the felony streaming proposal is the work of Republican senator Thom Tillis, who has backed similar proposals previously. It is more or less exactly what it sounds like: A proposal to turn unauthorised commercial streaming of copyrighted material — progressive policy publication The American Prospect specifically points to examples like “an album on YouTube, a video clip on Twitch, or a song in an Instagram story” — into a felony offence with a possible prison sentence. Currently, such violations, no matter how severe, are considered misdemeanours rather than felonies, because the law regards streaming as a public performance. With Twitch currently in the crosshairs of the music industry, such a change would turn up the heat on streamers and Twitch even higher — perhaps to an untenable degree. Other platforms, like YouTube, would almost certainly suffer as well.

“A felony streaming bill would likely be a chill on expression,” Katharine Trendacosta, associate director of policy and activism with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The American Prospect. “We already see that it’s hard enough in just civil copyright and the DMCA for people to feel comfortable asserting their rights. The chance of a felony would impact both expression and innovation.”

According to Protocol, House and Senate Judiciary Committees have agreed to package the streaming felony proposal with other controversial provisions that include the CASE act, which would establish a new court-like entity within the U.S. Copyright Office to resolve copyright disputes, and the Trademark Modernisation Act, which would give the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office more flexibility to crack down on illegitimate claims from foreign countries.

Alongside the felony streaming proposal, these provisions have drawn ire from civil rights groups, digital rights nonprofits, and companies including the aforementioned Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Internet Archive, the American Library Association, and the Centre for Democracy & Technology. Collectively, these groups and others penned a letter to the U.S. Senate last week.

“As creators, innovators, small businesses, online service providers, libraries, educators, and civil society organisations, we are concerned with including controversial copyright or trademark bills in a must-pass piece of legislation,” the organisations wrote (via TorrentFreak). “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…We ask that you decline to include this package of bills in the funding bill.”

It’s not difficult to see why Tillis would push a proposal that benefits big companies in the entertainment industry to the detriment of regular people; The American Prospect points out that in the past couple years, Tillis’ campaign committee and leadership received donations totaling out to well over $US100,000 ($134,040) from PACs with ties to the Motion Picture Association, Sony Pictures, Universal Music Group, Comcast & NBC Universal, The Internet and Television Association, Salem Media Group, and Warner Music, among many others.

Today, the House passed a stopgap spending bill to keep the lights on until December 18. For now, then, the government will continue to deliberate over these issues and many others, including the much-talked-about coronavirus relief package that has yet to materialise, even with numbers in the U.S. at an all-time high.

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  • The way this thing is worded, it would mean that Twitch, Youtube, Tik Tok, Facebook, and Twitter would either need to shut down or remove video sharing from their platforms. It would ignore America’s “Fair Use” law, making things like memes, parodies, and other creative mediums a felony in the country.

    If this passes, then expect Australia to follow suit soon enough in order to cripple anything that is not a big business owned streaming service.

  • And how many US politicians last year got DMCA, copyright infringement notices, cease and desists, and sued for using copyright photos, video and music on their websites, social media posts, campaign materials and at their rallies?

    A live streamed Trump rally would be banned 30 seconds after it starts 😛

  • TikTok literally just ignored the threats of lawsuits from the music industry until they got so big and powerful as a platform, the industry was essentially forced to sign a licencing agreement to just allow music publishers to opt-in and allow TikTok to use their music. I think TikTok is even launching a new paid music service, that’s already live in India or something like that…

    These music industry people are just shooting themselves in the foot by targetting the very American companies they could be partnering with, they can’t do jack against a company that is supported primarily by users in Asia.

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