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Senators ask new US Attorney General to prioritise actions under new anti-piracy laws

By | Published on Wednesday 17 March 2021

US State Capitol Building

The leaders of the intellectual property subcommittee in the American Senate have written to newly appointed US Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to ensure that the country’s Department Of Justice gets busy quickly utilising the new powers it has been granted to prosecute illegal streaming services.

Senators Patrick Leahy and Thom Tillis are talking about the powers granted to the DoJ by the new Protecting Lawful Streaming Act. Those new laws were crafted by Tillis and voted through by Congress late last year as part of a mega-spending bill. It basically brings commercial-level online infringement in line with commercial-level physical product infringement by increasing the possible penalties the infringers could face.

In their letter to Garland, the senators state: “Unlawful streaming services cost the US economy an estimated $29 billion per year. This illegal activity impacts growth in the creative industries in particular, which combined employ 2.6 million Americans and contribute $229 billion to the economy per year. In short, unlawful streaming is a threat to our creative industries and the economic security and well-being of millions of Americans”.

The PLSA, they then add, “empowers the Department Of Justice to pursue felony charges against criminal commercial piracy enterprises”. With that in mind, they wonder, “will you commit to making prosecutions under the PLSA a priority?”. And, if so, “what steps will you take during your first one hundred days to demonstrate your commitment to combating copyright piracy?”

Tillis carefully worded his PLSA so that it only targets those running unlicensed streaming services on a commercial basis, to counter concerns that the new laws could result in individuals who stream unlicensed material also facing criminal action. As a result, the PLSA, unlike other copyright matters in that big spending bill, was not opposed by the tech sector and digital rights groups.

The senators stress those limitations in their letter as well, urging the AG to put in place extra guidance to ensure that only the commercial operators of illegal streaming set-ups are targeted by the DoJ.

“What type of guidance do you intend to provide to make clear that prosecutions should only be pursued against commercial piracy services?”, they ask in their letter. “Such guidance should make clear that the law does not allow the department to target the ordinary activities of individual streamers, companies pursuing licensing deals in good faith, or internet service providers, and should be reflective of congressional intent as reflected in our official record”.

Leahy and Tillis request that Garland respond to their various queries by no later than 12 Apr.