The Commercial Felony Streaming Act: The Call For Expansion of Criminal Copyright Infringement.

Author:Yostanto, Jeff
 
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  1. Introduction II. Downloads vs. Streaming vs. Live Streaming III. Current Laws A. No Electronic Theft Act B. Digital Millennium Copyright Act C. Case Law IV. The Commercial Felony Streaming Act A. Senate Bill 978 B. Pros and Cons of the Commercial Felony Streaming Act C. Is There a Need for the CFS Act, Despite Current Criminal Copyright Law? V. Conclusion I. Introduction

    In 2006, some staggering viewership numbers showed the evolution of how the Internet has changed everyone's perspective on viewing and uploading videos online. YouTube reported that viewers watched more than 100 million videos per day on its site. (1) In addition, a measuring site called Hitwise reported that 29% of all online videos were hosted by YouTube, and that 60% of all videos watched online were also available on YouTube, according to the company itself. (2) However, live streaming has also been on the rise due to technology evolving at breakneck speeds. For example, Twitch.tv, a popular live streaming website, has reported some of their numbers on their website, boasting their growth of over 12 billion minutes watched per month outside of the United States. (3) At the bottom of Twitch's webpage that boasts their viewership numbers is a thank you to their viewers and includes final statistics that are incredible, including 100 million unique viewers per month, 1.5 million unique broadcasters per month, and 11 million total video broadcasts per month. (4)

    Nevertheless, what do these statistics have to do with copyright law? These statistics represent an emerging industry that will be affected by the call to expand criminal copyright infringement. An amendment to Title 18 of the United States Code [section] 2319 (1997), in the form of proposed United States Senate Bill 978 (2011) (S. Bill 978), or the "Commercial Felony Streaming Act," has proposed to change unauthorized streaming from a misdemeanor to a felony. (5) This proposition has led to the issue of the possible expansion of the criminalization of copyright infringement to these live streaming websites, giving copyright owners the means to prosecute infringers on said websites. Although there have been some cases where companies have gone after a copyright infringer, most of the time, companies have decided to either license their content to stream or not to pursue infringers at all. (6)

    However, the burning issue is whether proposed legislation like S. Bill 978 is even needed. Despite analyzing its pros and cons, ultimately, the proposed bill to expand criminal copyright infringement seems to be redundant in the case of live streaming and the law. In fact, the bill would not provide the legislative clarity for the public performance provision of the Copyright Act that the Seventh Circuit desired and welcomed. In the future, the better approach may be to proactively seek better ways to clarify current copyright laws in ways that do not also impede access to online content, so that the courts can better regulate copyrighted content.

    First, this Comment will concisely present the differences between downloads, streaming, and live streaming, which is what legislatures have been trying to penalize further, in Section II. In Section III, this Comment will analyze what Congress has done in terms of laws that reflect the current state of copyright law as a whole and their respective expansions and penalties. The analysis will also serve as a guide as to how Congress has ultimately shown to be reactive versus proactive in the race against copyright infringers. In Section IV, this Comment will continue by introducing the proposed United States Senate Bill, S. Bill 978, and lay out the amendments it intends to make. Again, the purpose of S. Bill 978 is to further strengthen penalties tied to said legislation as well. In addition, this section will also analyze the pros and cons of the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, and how it might influence the future of live streaming. However, it is important to determine further if the current laws are sufficient in regards to the criminalization of copyright infringers, and how the current laws affect everyday users of the Internet; this analysis begs the question if an expansion or strengthening of criminal copyright infringement law is even necessary. Lastly, Section V will be a short conclusion and overview of the Comment that will take into account factors from a personal perspective, which will ultimately form a determination of whether S. Bill 978 is an appropriate action to take to combat against copyright infringers.

  2. Downloads vs. Streaming vs. Live Streaming

    Currently, criminal copyright infringement has the ability to deal with infringing downloads and issue takedowns for copyrighted content that can be streamed. The issue presented in this Comment shows how the proposed bill, Senate 978 bill, will expand criminal copyright infringement to include live streaming. For clarity, this section will deal with differentiating downloads, streaming, and live streaming. It should be noted that this section is only to inform how these technologies function in a general way.

    Traditional downloading from the Internet is simple. A user opens a web browser to connect to the Internet, and when the user finds the file they want to download, they send a request via the browser to a server, a central computer that responds accordingly to requests, with the file on it. (7) The server receives the request and the request is handled by a protocol, or a set of rules that help the server act accordingly. (8) Finally, the server sends a copy of the file back to the user. (9)

    Moving forward, YouTube videos are somewhat similar to the traditional downloading process. A user utilizes a Web browser to send a request to a data center, which routes the request to YouTube's servers. (10) YouTube's servers send the video requested by the user in the best format available to the user and then the user can watch the video on YouTube's website. (11)

    Finally, live streaming is similar to how YouTube works, except when a user requests for a live stream, the Web server sends a message to a streaming server. (12) The streaming server streams the file directly to the user, bypassing the Web server, using protocols that allow transfer of data in real time. (13) In addition, those recording their live stream using the right streaming equipment can digitize, compress, and encode their video in real time, while uploading it to the streaming server. (14) This allows the streamer to record and the user to watch in real time. (15)

  3. Current Laws

    At the very least, Congress seems to react in cases of copyright infringement that pose severe problems for the copyright owners. In this section, said cases are explored further and show how Congress has approached the expansion of copyright laws and the strengthening of penalties of copyright infringement. The current laws presented respectively reflect the progression of copyright law to the technology explained in the preceding section, i.e. downloading, streaming, and live streaming.

    1. No Electronic Theft Act

      The No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act) is primarily focused on downloads, especially one based on commercial interests. As mentioned before, laws do not necessarily accommodate every aspect of new and developing technology. The NET Act also failed to anticipate how downloading technology would evolve. For example, a certain Massachusetts Institute of Technology student found a loophole to the NET Act and subsequently had this loophole named after himself, coined as the...

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