A white paper recently published by the White House's Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator urged Congress to make "illegal streaming" of content a felony and allow law enforcement to wiretap those suspected of being involved in copyright infringement.

Under current law, copyright infringement already carries felony penalties, but the 20-page white paper [PDF] noted that questions have been raised about whether broadcasting audio or video live over the Internet constitutes the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works.

The white paper called on Congress "to ensure that DOJ and U.S. law enforcement agencies are able to effectively combat infringement involving new technology" by clarifying that streaming unauthorized audio or video is a felony.

The white paper also recommended that Congress give law enforcement authorities the power to wiretap those suspected of being involved in criminal copyright and trademark offenses.

"Wiretap authority for these intellectual property crimes, subject to the existing legal protections that apply to wiretaps for other types of crimes, would assist U.S. law enforcement agencies to effectively investigate those offenses, including targeting organized crime and the leaders and organizers of criminal enterprises," the white paper stated.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised Victoria Espinel, the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, for the white paper.

"We are particularly encouraged to see several of our top legislative priorities covered by the white paper, especially the issue of rogue websites," a statement by the Chamber said. "The paper makes clear that the Administration shares Congress’ commitment towards combating websites dedicated to the sale or distribution of infringing products."

"We also strongly support the white paper’s call for Congress to clarify that criminal copyright infringement through unauthorized streaming, is a felony. We know both the House and Senate are looking at this issue and encourage them to work closely with the Administration and other stakeholders to combat this growing threat."

The white paper also encouraged increased criminal penalties for those selling counterfeits to the U.S. military, when counterfeiting and piracy is funding organized criminal activity, for those selling products that can harm or kill American consumers and for those stealing American innovation and transferring it overseas.

A similar report published by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) at the beginning of March classified some of of the most prominent BitTorrent websites as examples of online marketplaces that merit investigation for possible intellectual property rights infringements.

The USTR report did not identify any legal violations, but called on the responsible authorities to step up efforts to combat piracy and take legal action where appropriate.