Those who illegally stream live video or audio over the Internet could face up to five years in prison under legislation recently introduced to the U.S. Senate.
Ars Technica reported that Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Christopher Coons (D-DE) proposed a bill last week that would make "illegal streaming" of copyrighted content a felony.
Under current law, copyright infringement already carries felony penalties, but questions have been raised about whether broadcasting audio or video live over the Internet could be considered the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works.
Streaming content has been considered a "public performance" rather than "distribution."
Two months ago, a report 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.
The report called on Congress "to ensure that [the Department of Justice] 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.
It appears Klobuchar, Cornyn and Coons followed the White House's legislative recommendations. Their bill would make showing 10 or more "public performances" by electronic means in any 180-day period a felony if the total retail value of those performances tops $2,500 or the cost of licensing such performances is greater than $5,000.
"It is high time that the punishment fit the crime. Illegal streaming of stolen content is growing and poses a threat to the profitability of movie theaters and to the jobs of our 160,000 employees in the U.S." said John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, in a statement. "We thank Senators Klobuchar and Cornyn and recommend bipartisan support for the passage of this important legislation."