Obama “IP czar” wants felony charges for illegal Web streaming

The Obama administration wants to make sure that the illegal streaming of music and movies over the Internet is a felony, and it also wants to give the federal government wiretap authority in copyright cases.

Victoria Espinel, the Obama administration’s IP Enforcement Coordinator, today released her long-awaited wish list (PDF) of intellectual property law changes. Most focus on counterfeit drugs and economic espionage, but the list does contain three suggestions more likely to have some effect on home Internet users.

Streaming: The government wants to make sure that, as online piracy moves increasingly to streaming, the law keeps up with the activity. Currently, “reproducing” and “distributing” copyrighted works are felony charges, and they cover peer-to-peer file-sharing. But streaming seems more like a “public performance”—and holding a public performance without a proper license is not a felony.

As Espinel’s paper notes, “questions have arisen” about this distinction, and those questions “have impaired the criminal enforcement of copyright laws.” She wants Congress to “clarify that infringement by streaming, or by means of other similar new technology, is a felony in appropriate circumstances.”

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