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US official suggests providing unlicensed streams become a felony

By | Published on Monday 28 July 2014

US Department Of Justice

An official from the US Department Of Justice last week told Congress that the penalty for operating an illegal streaming operation should be reclassified from the current misdemeanour level to a felony, because infringing streaming sites are becoming one of the most serious threats to the copyright industries.

It’s worth noting that David Bitkower, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the DoJ’s Criminal Division, was talking about the criminal dimension of copyright, where the state prosecutes rather than affected copyright owners pursuing civil litigation. Generally copyright infringement only becomes a crime when pursued on an industrial level for profit, so traditionally it applied to the CD bootlegging factories.

In the digital domain, those operating unlicensed download or streaming platforms for profit might fall into this category too. Though, as seen in countless cases over the last fifteen years, it may be less clear cut when the online operator facilitates rather than undertakes the infringing activity. Meanwhile in the US, even when infringement is considered a criminal matter, there has been a distinction between download and streaming set-ups.

The distinction stems from how copyright law defines streaming, which has been a moot point since streaming services started to go mainstream. American criminal law, it seems, deems that streaming services exploit the ‘performance right’ of the copyright, rather than the true copy or mechanical right, which download stores undeniably utilise. Of course, mechanical copies do also occur in the streaming process, albeit temporarily.

Anyway, US copyright law treats the infringement of performance rights as only a misdemeanour, but mechanical rights as a felony. However, as sites selling advertising and subscriptions around infringing streaming content become a major issue for the copyright industries, Bitkower reckons the more serious level of crime should be applied to streaming as well.

Or so he told the House Judiciary Committee in Washington last week, according to Billboard.