White House: Illegally streaming music, movies should be a felony

The White House on Wednesday reiterated that illegally streaming large amounts of copyrighted movies, TV shows and music on the Internet should be a felony.

A top cybersecurity and intellectual property official called for a “rational, straightforward update” to the nation’s laws that would make sure artists and musicians benefit from their works.

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"[W]e believe that federal criminal law should be modernized to include felony criminal penalties for those who engage in large-scale streaming of illegal, infringing content in the same way laws already on the books do for reproduction and distribution of infringing content,” wrote Alex Niejelow, the chief of staff to the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator and the National Security Council’s head of cybersecurity policy.

The statement came in response to a pair of petitions on the White House’s website that urge the Obama administration to back off of any new intellectual property laws that would further criminalize sharing of media online.

Citing 2012’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which were hugely controversial and ultimately failed in Congress, petitioners urged the White House to avoid any change that would jeopardize “all fan-pages, fanfics, fan made videos, etc.” 

Niejelow said the administration’s position would not hurt amateur online videos or people watching YouTube, just serious offenders putting large amounts of content online.

“We are not advocating for, and do not support, Congress enacting criminal sanctions against people who upload their own, non-commercial performances of other artists' works on Tumblr, against the content creators making your favorite mashup on YouTube, or against the users of these services — like many of you who signed this petition — who watch and listen to this digital content,” he wrote.

“Rather, we think the law should deter the large-scale willful reproduction, distribution, and streaming of illegal, infringing content for profit.”

Felonies should only apply to “significant criminal activity,” Niejelow added, while urging lawmakers to come together to create a new threshold so that one act does not turn someone into a felon. 

Lawmakers in the House are currently examining the nation's copyright laws and could begin work on an update in the new year.