New US stimulus bill may have made some live streaming a felony

Jessica Scharnagle • December 23, 21:35

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) snuck the Protect Lawful Streaming Act into a recently passed stimulus bill, and the contents of the law will become law if it’s signed by the president. 

This act makes illegal live streaming a criminal felony offense, and can be punished by jail time. Live streaming copyrighted material is already a tortuous offense, meaning that copyright holders can sue offenders in civil court. If the proposed act is signed into law, copyright holders could alert law enforcement, who may enforce jail time on offenders. 

Some are confused as to why an illegal streaming act has been enveloped in a bill meant for public relief, but to lawmakers, this is the perfect time to smuggle in smaller items that might go unnoticed. The stimulus bill is over 5,000 pages long, and congress had just a few hours to vote on its final version. 

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez let loose on Twitter, voicing her displeasure with voting on such a large bill in such a short amount of time.

What counts as illegal live streaming?

Illegal live streaming is described as the illegal large-scale streaming of copyrighted material for commercial profit. This is vague, and it could have implications for Twitch and YouTube Gaming streamers alike. 

By definition, video games and everything that comes with them, including music, visuals, and text, are all copyrighted material. While most video game companies encourage streamers to play their games, there are some who dislike their games being played publically. Nintendo is notorious for giving out copyright strikes to creators as soon as their content is uploaded on YouTube, and even sued the now defunct Blockbuster in 1989 for photocopying game manuals to accompany rental cartridges, and tried to ban the company from renting their games out at all.

Can Twitch streamers go to jail for streaming a game?

It’s very unlikely that a Twitch streamer will go to jail for streaming a game. The text in the act makes it difficult to discern what copyright holders can do to someone streaming a video game on Twitch, but the text of the act reads that it is unlawful for a person to provide to the public a “digital transmission service” that is primarily designed for publicly performing copyright protected works, has no commercially significant purpose, and is intentionally marketed by that person to promote its use in publically performing works by means of a digital transmission without the copyright owner or the law.

Any person who violates the law can be punished by jail time of up to five years and fined for a first offense, and sent to jail for up to 10 years for a second offense. 

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