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US Senator Pushes Bill That Could Punish Twitch Streamers And Youtubers As Felons

Copyright strikes and takedowns aren’t particularly new to content creators. It is well known at this point that using songs without permission will likely end up in your video being taken down or demonetized. Now, a US Senator is pushing a bill (conveniently attached to an omnibus spending bill) that would make using copyrighted material a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Last month, Twitch faced thousands of DMCA takedowns from various rights holders. The problem got so bad (with streamers being taken down for using in-game sound effects) that Twitch was forced to tell streamers that they were safest just muting all game audio. While some took umbrage with Twitch—allegedly for taking the “side” of copyright holders over content streamers—there isn’t much that the company can do, given that it doesn’t have the right or ability to determine who ultimately owns the rights to a creation.

Things are only getting worse with the introduction of a bill that would reclassify copyright strikes as a felony offense. The proposal would come attached to a spending bill that is supposed to keep the United States government and its 456 various agencies open for the next year (or a few days as has become the norm). According to Protocol.com, an offshoot of Politico, Chairman of the US Senate subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Thom Tillis (R), is seeking to add the provision in the “must-pass” spending bill.

Last year, the then Director of the United States Copyright Office, Karyn A. Temple sent a letter to Tillis and ranking subcommittee member Christopher Coons (D) explaining why copyright strikes should be considered a felony. Temple quoted a paper that was published, in part, by the President and CEO Global Innovation Policy Center at the United States Chamber of Commerce that focused on the effect piracy has on Hollywood as the reasoning behind making streaming copyrighted material a felony. Additionally, she quoted a blog post that simultaneously comments on the harm that “stream ripping” (a practice that is equivalent to using a tape recorder to record a song from the radio) has on the music industry, while also admitting that it’s “not as big an issue in the US as it is internationally.”

Senators Thom Tillis and Christopher Coons asked the Copyright Office Director Karyn Temple, “Do you believe that increasing the criminal penalty for the unauthorized streaming of copyrighted material from a misdemeanor to a felony would better deter illicit streaming? If yes, what specific statutory changes would you recommend?” She responded by saying, “The Copyright Office has previously supported statutory amendments that would provide the same felony-level penalties for criminal streaming as for criminal reproduction and distribution.”

The Copyright Office, in essence, is seeking to make it so that a public performance of a work (streaming) is treated the same as if you were selling bootlegged copies of an Avengers movie for your own profit. A group of 18 different organizations is urging congressional leadership to decline to include the language in the omnibus spending bill that will be considered in just a few days. If what former Director Temple suggested is indeed in the spending bill, it will mean the end of “polite” takedowns of videos and may result in the criminal prosecution of anyone who runs afoul of Hollywood, the music industry, and even other content creators.

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