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Commercial Felony Streaming Act Passes Senate Judiciary Committee: Website Owners May Face Harsher Punishments

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Lawmakers are taking a stand against websites in the business of streaming movies illegally.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a measure that aims to punish site owners for streaming ill-gotten movies, TV shows and other intellectual property. According to the Hollywood Reporter the bill would make streaming felonious "in most cases."

Introduced in May by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Commercial Felony Streaming Act (S. 978) targets site owners who flout copyright law and does not include the sites' visitors, who might stream movies on their personal computers.

"This isn't about individuals or families streaming movies at home," Klobuchar said in an email to Bloomberg after Thursday's vote. "It's about criminals streaming thousands of dollars worth of stolen digital content and profiting from it."

The bill would reconcile a disparity that exists in current law between illegal streaming and peer-to-peer downloading, the latter of which is already considered a felony.

The Hollywood Reporter outlines the consequences violators could face if this new bill becomes law: "The penalty [for streaming] is increased to up to five years in prison when it involves 10 or more instances of streaming over a 180-day period. The retail value of the streamed video must exceed $2,500, or the licenses to the material must be worth more than $5,000."

This legistaltion is backed by the Obama Administration, as well as by many organizations within the entertainment industry. The AFM, AFTRA, DGA, IATSE, IBT and SAG released a joint statement on Thursday commending the measure:

We congratulate Senator Klobuchar, Senator Cornyn and Senator Coons, who introduced the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, for recognizing that digital content theft via streaming is just as illegal as digital content theft via downloading, and for leading the charge to apply the same criminal penalties to illegal streaming that already apply to illegal downloading. [...] Make no mistake: the illegal streaming of content for commercial or financial gain is a crime, and the Commercial Felony Streaming Act places the appropriate criminal label on the activity. This legislation is an important step forward in our efforts to stem the rising tide of Internet theft that threatens our members' very livelihoods.

Now that the bill has passed committee, it will appear for a vote before the full Senate. If it passes, it will move on to the House.

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