Tucked away in the more than 5,000-page long Covid-19 stimulus bill is a new law that severely punishes streamers that pirate large amounts of copyrighted content.
If a violator is prosecuted, they could be imprisoned up to 10 years for multiple offenses, and they could be fined.
It’s been less than two weeks since Sen. Thom Tillis released his proposal to increase the penalties for those who would dare stream unlicensed works.
About a decade ago, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made a similar proposal before it ended up dying as people worried about sending Justin Bieber to jail.
But Tillis’ attempt has been winning better reviews for more narrowly tailoring the provisions toward commercial operators rather than users.
That said, it had very little time to circulate before becoming part of the massive spending package.
When President Trump signs the bill, illegal streaming of works including movies and music tracks could carry a penalty of up to 10 years in jail.
That’s not the only change to copyright law, either.
The spending bill also appears to adopt a long-discussed plan to create a small-claims adjudication system within the U.S. Copyright Office.
Advocates have long sought to give copyright owners some recourse to infringement outside of the expensive federal court system, though the so-called CASE Act has engendered some pushback from those weary of throwing certain disputes to unaccountable bureaucrats working for an agency suspected of favoring industry.
Some critics believe the alternative dispute system to be unconstitutional, though by making the system opt-in and non-compulsory, advocates hope that it will survive any legal challenge and ultimately lead to swifter resolution over takedown notices for copyright material posted online.
The CASE Act previously passed the House by a 410-6 vote before being blocked in the Senate by Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Among the other parts of the omnibus bill of interest to Hollywood is an extension of Section 181, a tax provision that allows for immediate deduction of television and film production costs up to $15 million.
That incentive was scheduled to expire at the end of the year, but would now get an additional five years.
The Motion Picture Association of America cheered the outcome.
The trade group said in a statement, “We are encouraged that this legislation includes an expanded employee retention credit, a grant for movie theaters and an extension of the federal film, television, and live theatrical incentive. We are also pleased that the package includes the Protect Lawful Streaming Act, which protects creators, innovators, and consumers by ensuring that operators of commercial pirate streaming services face meaningful criminal penalties in appropriate circumstances.”
In a separate response, the National Association of Broadcasters said it “strongly supports” the law.
Last year, the Department of Justice charged two computer programmers from Las Vegas for illegal pirating thousands of hours of television shows from Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu and streaming them on websites called iStreamItAll and Jetflicks.
One man admitted to earning more than $1 million from his piracy operations.