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U.S. Anti-Piracy Legislation Passed – Illegal Streaming Penalties Increased

On December 27, 2020, a new section to the U.S. “Protecting Lawful Streaming Act” was signed into law to punish large-scale criminal streaming services.

Notably, the additional section raises the willful streaming of copyrighted material for profit from a ‘misdemeanor” to a felony and up to 10 years imprisonment.

OBJECTIVE OF THIS NEW LAW

This law’s objective is to target operators, but, interestingly, it did not address persons who watch unlicensed content–the consumers of illegal content.

As noted by one of the co-sponsors of this law, Senator Thom Tillis said, “Individuals who might use pirate streaming services will not be affected.

And as mentioned by IP attorney Seth A. Davidson, “…this provision is not intended to subject “mainstream” internet service providers and streaming services or their customers to felony penalties.”

HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO U.K. LAW?

Well, in the UK consumers of illegal streaming are culpable.

Here’s a quote from the CEO of FACT (Fight Against Copyright Theft) Kieron Sharp that appeared in a joint press release with the City of London’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) on September 12, 2020:

“Consuming content illegally is a crime which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment and consequently results in a criminal record.”

Although U.S. law has not caught up with UK law in holding consumers culpable, the 10 year prison sentence for operators of illegal streaming services is consistent with UK law enacted in 2017.

In my January 2018 post titled, “Digital Piracy Crackdown – UK Report (Summary), I mentioned that the 2017 UK “Digital Economy Act” increase in illegal streaming criminal penalties as follows:

“The new Digital Economy Act…has extended criminal penalties for online copyright infringement to match those of physical copyright infringement –maximum sentences will increase from two years to 10 years.”

FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT INVOLVEMENT

The increase to a potential 10-year prison sentence for running an illegal streaming operation will receive more attention from federal law enforcement.

As Senator Tillis put it, “This bipartisan, consensus legislation will provide the Department of Justice with the authority to bring felony charges against a [illegal] digital transmission service.”

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Ron Alvarez is an IP Investigations / Protection writer and licensed private investigator in New York City. He is a former NYPD lieutenant where he investigated robbery, narcotics, internal affairs, and fine art theft cases. Ron is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and earned a B.A. in Government and Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. He has published a number of articles on various investigative topics for PI Magazine. Ron is certified by the Interpol-International IP Crime Investigators College (IIPCIC.) as a "Transnational and Organized Crime Intellectual Property (IP) Investigator."

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