Tightening laws is a key weapon for entertainment industry companies looking to crack down on piracy in the civil courts, but there are other options too.
Certain acts of copyright infringement are criminal offenses, which opens up the possibility of jail time on top of already sizable fines, with the tax payer helping with the bill.
Current US law provides felony penalties for willful copyright infringement which apply to individuals who reproduce or distribute copyright works. However, companies distributing movies, TV shows and sports events say there is a loophole which allows streaming services to avoid the toughest of penalties.
The problem is that it remains unclear whether Internet streaming is considered distribution under current law and therefore any prosecution as a felony could prove problematic.
According to the MPAA, the lack of clarity means that prosecutors don’t want to pursue cases against streaming services so are instead using their limited resources to prosecute cases with a more certain outcome.
Since streaming video is currently only classed as a misdemeanor, outfits such as the MPAA and mixed martial arts company UFC desperately want to up the ante with a greater deterrent effect. Their efforts during 2011 and 2012 were concentrated on the streaming provisions in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), but both collapsed under a wave of opposition.
During March this year there were fresh calls to update the law but according to UFC lawyer Lawrence Epstein, it’s proving a tough job.
“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Epstein told MMAjunkie.
“There is a general sort of bias that has anything to do with intellectual property because of the fallout from [the Stop Online Piracy Act] and [Protect IP Act].”
According to OpenSecrets, the UFC spent $620,000 on lobbying in 2012, much of it aimed at toughening up the law, changes that could have consequences far beyond the UFC. With $110,00 spent in the first quarter of 2013 the organization is keeping up the pressure, with Epstein confirming that he will be meeting with U.S. lawmakers this week to speak on the issue.
“The only way this is really going to slow down is if, frankly, there is criminal prosecution,” he said. “This needs to be a felony, and you need to prosecute these people.”
That kind of development would be welcomed not only by the UFC, but organizations such as the MPAA, the RIAA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), all former supporters of the Commercial Felony Streaming Act.
If the six-strikes scheme really starts to bite in the U.S., streaming services will only gain in popularity, so deterring their operators now will be a useful tool.