The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) may be long dead, but the Obama administration appears poised to revive one of its most controversial tenets. The U.S. Department of Commerce and its Internet Policy Task Force have filed a new report supporting a proposal to designate the streaming of copyrighted content as a felony.
Online streaming of copyrighted material without permission is already illegal, but the act is currently considered to be a misdemeanor, drawing a dividing line between simply viewing illegal content and reproducing or distributing the work, which is already classified as a felony. For those unclear on the difference between the two classifications, the term felony is reserved for more severe crimes and can carry a state prison term of multiple years, while misdemeanor covers minor crimes usually punished by less than a year in county jail or just a fine.
The Department of Commerce’s report notes that both audio and video streaming has become “a significant if not dominant means for consumers to enjoy content online,” arguing that due to its popularity the act should be more heavily monitored. While illegal streaming remains a popular option, legal services from Netflix and Hulu to Spotify offer streamers plenty of legal access to online content.