It’s still early in the month of June, but the month has already created a lot of debate in the entertainment world. On the first of June, lawmakers in Tennessee caught national attention by passing a bill that would make using another person’s account on an online entertainment streaming service illegal – making it a crime to stream another person’s Rhapsody or Netflix account.
On that very day, Maria Pallante, the newly appointed Registrar of Copyrights, made a statement before the Congress addressing the same problem – promoting online commerce by combating illegal streaming. Although Congress amended various copyright statutes to fight new forms of copyright infringement caused by advances in technology, copyright laws still fall short from protecting copyright holders. This inadequacy of copyright protection is more noticeable as the entertainment industry is turning greatly towards online streaming.
Registrar Pallante’s statement looked at the lack of protection under the copyright owner’s right of public performance:
In the context of criminal activity, depending on the specific contours of the alleged conduct, unauthorized streams may infringe upon multiple exclusive rights protected under the Copyright Act. First of all, the act of streaming a performance is an exercise of the public performance right, and unauthorized streaming infringes that right. The Copyright Act defines “to perform a work publicly” as, among other things, “to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work . . . to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.” Streaming, which transmits a performance to members of the public, fits comfortably within this definition. And the unauthorized retransmission of a stream simultaneously over the Internet to a user’s computer or other device infringes the public performance right, whether the stream is a retransmission of a live broadcast or a transmission of a performance of prerecorded material.
In the statement, the Copyright Office states its concern with illegal streaming; and asks Congress to consider updating copyright statutes in order to impose criminal liability for streaming that causes a “serious harm” to entertainment companies’ prospective markets.
Accordingly, the Copyright Act’s criminal provisions do not adequately allow for “prosecutions in cases where the primary cause of action is infringement of the exclusive right of public performance.”
Registrar Pallante notes that, although steaming is a misdemeanor, the punishment is not adequate to combat streaming. She notes that misdemeanors are not often prosecuted, so persons who illegal stream copyrighted content may never actually be punished. As such, streaming should be a felonious act in appropriate cases.
Although the statement only serves as a suggestion to Congress, it highlights the seriousness of illegal streaming. Not only will Tennessee possibly become the first state to take action to control and stub out illegal streaming, but entertainment companies may soon have the ability to come after anyone streaming a friend’s Netflix or Rhapsody account.