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It’s all fun and games until the government brings felony charges against the guy who uploaded a 2 minute clip of Who’s The Boss to Vimeo.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, newly appointed Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante argued in favor of the IP Enforcement Czar’s recommendation that the Government should stop treating illegal streaming offenses as unauthorized performances and instead start classifying them as unauthorized reproductions and distributions.

By doing so, the punishment for illegal streaming would rise from a misdemeanor charge to a full-blown felony. Also, Tennessee’s recent bill that would criminalize sharing a streaming media account would have a far more severe punishment.

Pallante’s logic for lumping streaming in with reproductions and distribution stems from her conviction that it’s basically the same crime. That logic is reinforced by the huge rise in illegal streaming activity, swollen bandwidth data costs and high level of anonymity provided to offenders.

During the hearing, Pallante said:

One might ask why it is not sufficient to prosecute streaming as a misdemeanor. The fact is, as a practical matter, prosecutors have little incentive to file charges for a mere misdemeanor. This means that compared to similar infringing conduct involving the large-scale making or distributing copies (e.g. DVDs of a movie), streaming is not only a lesser crime on the books, it is a crime that may never be punished at all. As a matter of policy, the public performance right should enjoy the same measure of protection from criminals as the reproduction and distribution rights; prosecutors should have the option of seeking felony penalties for such activity, when appropriate.

Pallante’s argument is sound; the only thing that isn’t being taken into account is how impractical going after these streaming media offenders will be on a large-scale.

The Copyright Office only has jurisdiction to operate within the borders of this country and other countries that agree to help us. The internet has no boundaries, so it’s unclear how Pallante plans to stomp out every streaming media site that violates the law without filtering every internet connection.

Also, how will Pallante deal with sites that only post links to other streaming media websites and are otherwise completely unaffiliated? More exceptions to the Copyright rule?

“Copyright policy is never finished,” Pallante remarked during the hearing. Sadly, her tenure in office is likely to produce plenty more logical yet impractical laws and regulations.

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