jail.jpgLos Angeles – In the ongoing effort to fight intellectual property theft, IP Enforcement Czar Maria Pallante recently met with the House Judiciary Committee to determine if the penalty for Internet copyright piracy should be upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony. 

“It is clear that unauthorized copyrighted content is a significant problem that will only increase in severity if technology outpaces legal reforms,” Pallante stated.  On the table is a proposal by Pallante, backed by the White House, to call for stricter penalties for illegal online streaming.  Currently, the federal government deals with unauthorized reproductions and distributions as potential felonies, permitting it to go after certain website operators that allow their users access to full downloads of movies and music.

Traditionally, under the Copyright Act, streaming is considered to be a “public performance” and has been treated differently than “reproduction” and “distribution.”  Furthermore, the act of streaming has carried a lighter charge of a misdemeanor.

When Congress considered making changes to copyright laws a few years ago, online streaming was not a major issue.   It has only intensified with the growing popularity of easy to use and less-traceable online streaming sites. 

One might question whether a felony charge and conviction is too strict of a penalty for illegal online streaming.  Under current copyright law, prosecutors don’t have much incentive to go after online streaming violators because it is considered a lesser crime and will only carry a misdemeanor charge.  Most of the time, violators of online streaming are never charged or punished at all.  Pallante and other supporters of the proposal maintain that the public performance right should receive the same level of protection from violators as do the reproduction and distribution rights, and prosecutors should have the ability to seek felony penalties for such crimes.

A majority of the online streaming violations seem to come from websites that are based overseas.  Unfortunately, this will likely make it very difficult to enforce the upgraded felony penalties.