The new COVID-19 stimulus bill presented in Congress this week has an added lump of Christmas coal awaiting anyone engaged in commercially pirating copyrighted video via for-profit streaming services.

Congress slapped an anti-piracy streaming proposal onto the much-needed and highly debated new COVID-19 stimulus measure in an end-of-year spending package to hold accountable for-profit, large-scale illegal streaming services by imposing felony penalties of up to 10 years of jail time.

The bipartisan sidecar measure on the spending bill, was initially pushed by Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and has long been advocated by IP copyright holders and legitimate streaming service providers looking to expande and add teeth to anti-piracy laws in the streaming sector.

Additional congressional backers named as bill presenters included Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), John Cornyn (R-TX), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), David Perdue (R-GA), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

Under the proposed legislation, the intended targets of the action are large-scale criminal streaming services that intentionally profit from content copyrighted by others and offered to the public for private financial gain.

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The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act was expected to be signed into law as part of the year-end spending package calling for $600 payments to hard-pressed citizens impacted by economic conditions resulting from the pandemic, but as of Wednesday morning President Trump had threatened not to sign it unless stimulus payments to citizens were raised from $600 to $2,000 and certain “wasteful” conditions were removed.

The anti-piracy portion of the bil will only impact commercial, for-profit streaming pirates and will not impact individual streamers who access pirated streams or interfere with the normal practices by online service providers.

“The shift toward streaming content online has resulted in criminal streaming services illegally distributing copyrighted material that costs the US economy nearly $30 billion every year, and discourages the production of creative content that Americans enjoy,” stated Tillis. “I am proud this common-sense legislation that was drafted with the input of creators, user groups, and technology companies will become law so we can target criminal organizations and ensure that no individual streamer has to worry about the fear of prosecution. I want to thank Senator Leahy and Representatives Martha Roby and Ben Cline for their early partnership on this important issue.”

“At a time when an unprecedented number of Americans are streaming movies and TV shows, music and books, criminal organizations are exploiting a loophole in copyright law to steal online content at an unprecedented rate and with hardly a consequence,” Leahy said. “Commercial piracy costs the economy billions of dollars and hurts both the creative community and consumers. This narrow bill closes this loophole by targeting only commercial, for-profit criminal piracy, and I am proud to have supported it.”

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By Greg Tarr

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