You probably remember the online outrage over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) copyright enforcement proposal. Last week, the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force released a report on digital copyright policy that endorsed one piece of the controversial proposal: making the streaming of copyrighted works a felony.
As it stands now, streaming a copyrighted work over the Internet is considered a violation of the public performance right. The violation is only punishable as a misdemeanor, rather than the felony charges that accompany the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material.
SOPA attempted to change that in Section 201, aptly titled “Streaming of copyrighted works in violation of criminal law.” Some have suggested that the SOPA version and an earlier stand-alone piece of legislation from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) would have criminalized covers of songs shared on Youtube.
One campaign against this particular type of copyright crackdown highlighted how such a law could have made Justin Bieber into a criminal. Bieber himself spoke out against Klobuchar’s bill, saying the senator should be “locked up—put away in cuffs” while noting he personally thinks it is “awesome” when he sees fans uploading their own covers of his songs.
The Commerce Department report recommends “[a]dopting the same range of penalties for criminal streaming of copyrighted works to the public as now exists for criminal reproduction and distribution,” adding that “[s]ince the most recent updates to the criminal copyright provisions, streaming (both audio and video) has become a significant if not dominant means for consumers to enjoy content online.”
It’s certainly true that as networks have built the capacity to stream large amounts of data, streaming has become a major way for people to consume entertainment online — and not all of that consumption is officially sanctioned. But as the quality of legal streaming options has grown, so has the market for it. Netflix boasts “nearly 38 million members” in 40 countries and the music streaming service Spotify claims over 24 million active users in more than 28 countries.