January 26, 2021

Tillis Release Details Of His Felony Streaming Bill; A Weird Gift To Hollywood At The Expense Of Taxpayers

By Mike Masnick
Earlier today, we wrote about reports detailing the latest attempt to push through a bill to make streaming copyright-covered works online a possible felony, this time being pushed by Senator Thom Tillis, who wanted to attach it to the federal spending omnibus bill. As we noted, Tillis was pushing back on some of the criticism, saying that the bill is very narrowly tailored and wouldn’t be used to criminalize random people. Of course, the response to that is twofold: (1) if this is the case, why haven’t you released the text and (2) why are you shoving it onto a must-pass funding bill without any of the normal debate and discussion?

This afternoon Tillis dealt with the first part of this by finally releasing the text of the bill. And he’s somewhat correct in noting that the bill is narrowly tailored. That doesn’t make it good or necessary. The key bit is this:

PROHIBITED ACT.—It shall be unlawful to willfully, and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, offer or provide to the public a digital transmission service that

‘‘(1) is primarily designed or provided for the
purpose of publicly performing works protected
under title 17 by means of a digital transmission
without the authority of the copyright owner or the
law;

‘‘(2) has no commercially significant purpose or
use other than to publicly perform works protected
under title 17 by means of a digital transmission
without the authority of the copyright owner or the
law; or

‘‘(3) is intentionally marketed by or at the direction of that person to promote its use in publicly
performing works protected under title 17 by means
of a digital transmission without the authority of the
copyright owner or the law.

So, the argument is that the “narrow” tailoring here is such that it only applies to websites, not users, if that site is “primarily” engaged in streaming unlicensed copyright-covered works, has no significant purpose other than that, and intentionally markets itself as such.

And, to Tillis’ credit, this is much more narrowly tailored than previous such bills. It still doesn’t explain why the text is only just being released now or (more importantly) why this has to be added to a must-pass Christmas Tree government funding bill.

To some extent, the thinking behind this bill is that it’s focused on a very specific set of circumstances. There have been websites out there that stream content they host, and those already faced felony charges for the hosting — but this seems to extend that to sites that stream the content that is hosted elsewhere. Of course, there is a much bigger question of why is this a criminal issue in the first place? It is yet another example of Hollywood trying to pass off what should be a civil issue, where the movie studios and record labels have every right and ability to sue these companies in court, and turn them into an issue that the US taxpayer now has to deal with? It’s basically a giant subsidy to Hollywood, taking a private dispute and putting it on the public dime.

As Public Knowledge says in its response to the bill’s release, “we do not see the need for further criminal penalties for copyright infringement.” Indeed.

The end result is that this bill is not as horrific as past felony streaming bills, and is, in fact, narrowly tailored. However, that does not change the fact that moving copyright issues away from civil disputes to be handled by copyright holders, to the federal government, is something that we should not support. Indeed, it should be seen as somewhat odd that a Trump-supporting Republican, who claims to be for keeping government out of business, is directly subsidizing Hollywood by having the federal government and US taxpayers take over their own civil legal dispute by turning them into criminal issues.

And, more importantly, none of this explains why the bill should be released at the last moment, and then dumped into the must-pass federal spending bill. It’s a bad idea. If Tillis really thinks this bill is good and necessary, he should have to defend it as such through the regular process bills go through.

Source:: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20201210/14275845866/tillis-release-details-his-felony-streaming-bill-it-would-have-limited-impact-there-are-still-problems.shtml