US Law Could Make Streaming Copyrighted Games A Felony

A new law could make streaming copyrighted material, such as video games, a felony, punishable with imprisonment. The bill, which includes the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act and the Trademark Modernization Act, would enable copyright owners to file infringement claims and a “felony streaming proposal” that would punish those streaming copyrighted material.

The bill contends that illegal streaming violates the “right of public performance” and demands “the same level of felony penalties” for such violations. It also links the popularity of streaming with an increase in piracy. Felony penalties for copyright infringement carry up to a five-year prison sentence and $250,000 in fines. The bill would amend the Copyright Act, which distinguishes between distribution and reproduction and public performance.

“Primarily, in order to be subject to criminal prosecution, you need to either be reproducing/distributing the material in question, or have infringed for purposes of commercial advantage,” The Hoeg Law Firm’s business attorney Richard Hoeg told GamesIndustry.biz.

“The Criminal Code sets the standards for penalties in this area, with felony penalty levels attaching to reproduction/distribution, but with all other cases of infringement including public performance being charged at misdemeanor levels,” he added.

The issue at hand is that the new law would not differentiate between streaming films online and live streaming games. Most often, game streamers do not have license rights to broadcast games, therefore, it is up to the publisher to determine if the streamer has infringed upon their copyright. In addition, games include a number of copyrights, such as for music or sound effects, that could make streamers open to legal sanctions from third parties.

In other countries, such as the UK, “Communicating a copyright work to the public when you know or have reason to believe that it is infringing, and with a view to making a gain or causing a loss, is an indictable offence punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine,” said Kostyantyn Lobov, partner at Harbottle & Lewis.

These sanctions, however, are usually limited to large-scale piracy or infringement. The US law, which is being opposed by a number of organizations, such as tech trade, advocacy and library associations, would have a significant impact on content creators, who already face consequences from streaming services like Twitch, which actively monitor copyright infringement.

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