The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (Public Law No: 116-260), was signed into law on December 27, 2020. It significantly increases criminal penalties for those who, willfully and for commercial advantage or private financial gain, illegally stream copyrighted material. Previously, illegal streaming was treated as a misdemeanor. Under the new law, the Department of Justice can bring felony charges against providers (as opposed to users) of such illegal services.
Streaming of live audio and video has in recent years become the primary way that consumers enjoy online content. However, the growth of the legitimate streaming market has been accompanied by growth in unlawful streaming of copyrighted works. The classification of unlawful streaming as a misdemeanor in the United States has long been identified by rights holders as an intellectual property (IP) enforcement inadequacy. And the issue has arisen in negotiations with some U.S. trading partners, who often have higher penalties for this illicit activity.
The inadequacy of classifying unlawful streaming as a misdemeanor was an issue also identified by the Internet Policy Task Force (IPTF), which the USPTO co-leads with the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. A green paper published by the IPTF in 2013 called on Congress to adopt the same range of penalties for criminal streaming of copyrighted works to the public as those that already existed for criminal reproduction and distribution. The IPTF stated that the discrepancy in penalties was “an increasingly significant impediment to the effective deterrence and criminal prosecution of unauthorized streaming.”