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Changes Are Coming to Copyright Laws


It is common in lawmaking for legislators to throw unrelated laws onto popular bills, which are likely to become law. Such is the case with recent changes to copyright laws, which were amended after they were tacked on to a COVID-19 relief bill. You can probably tell that these two topics have nothing to do with each other, but that’s exactly how the copyright laws were changed.

Streaming Illegally is a Felony

The new law classifies illegal streaming as a felony. Although you may have thought illegal streaming already was a felony, it was not yet codified into federal law.

This created a lot of confusion, because illegal streaming has multiple definitions. Obviously, people who are hosting entire movies or TV shows for free on apps and services, as a way to let people access them without having to pay streaming services, is (and has been) illegal.

But the new penalties give rise to other questions, unanswered by the text of the new amendments.  Does giving someone your Netflix password constitute a felony now? What about content creators, who often will have copyrighted music or videos on or in their videos? It was always the case that they could be sued, or at least requested that they take down the offending material—but is that now a felony? If so, some fear it could stifle creativity and the creation of unique content.

Legislators Try to Address Concerns

Legislators were quick to point out that the amendments to the copyright laws did not intend to punish these kinds of people, but were rather targeted towards the high-volume, commercial streaming services that pirate licensed, copyrighted material. The sponsor of the bill issued a statement saying that the bill doesn’t affect those who access pirated material, nor does it affect noncommercial activities, good faith business practices, or other normal services provided by online providers.

Now, if a site is, for example, streaming an NFL football game illegally, the FBI can step in and threaten the service stealing the NFL’s feed with prison time.

Legitimate Content Hosts Have Concern

Still, many large providers such as YouTube are concerned over their liability should a video that contains copyrighted material make it past their censors. And the bill may make YouTube’s system that flags copyrighted material, even harder to navigate for content providers, who claim that YouTube is too stringent in removing videos that contain copyright claims.

They also say that content owners merely need to tell YouTube that their material is being used without permission, and YouTube listens to them and removes content, with no input from the other side (the party creating the video or content), and with little regard for copyright’s fair use provisions.

Quasi-Court Created for Infringement Claims

The bill also created a “quasi-judicial” body in the copyright office, designed to resolve copyright disputes without court intervention. Potentially, that body could fine people who share memes that are copyrighted, and penalize other everyday, harmless internet activity.

Call the West Palm Beach copyright litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig to help if you have a copyright or infringement problem.



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