Copyright chief calls for crackdown on illegal streaming

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She explained that streaming is rapidly becoming a more popular way for consuming online content, including illegal content, than downloading.

"Whether you're streaming the Super Bowl, whether you're streaming music, a movie, the point is that you don't always need to have a copy, and the consumer may not want a copy," she said.

Pallante argued that copyright laws have failed to keep pace with technology and the system is badly in need of a comprehensive overhaul, but she acknowledged that such sweeping legislation could take years to craft.

"What you suggest will take some time, and there is no guarantee this subcommittee will agree to undertake it," said Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), the chairman of the subcommittee. But lawmakers expressed interest in Pallante's suggestions and hope that Congress could enact some kind of reform.

Pallante argued that the goal of copyright is to promote the public interest, and that the public's interest usually aligns with the interest of authors and other content producers. She argued that a strong copyright system is critical for rewarding innovation and creativity. 

Pallante said better enforcement would have to be part of broad reform but that the government should focus on going after major Internet pirates profiting from the works of others and not a "teenager downloading music."

She also argued that copyright law is confusing and that people are often unsure about how to use works without violating the law. She urged Congress to pass a more accessible copyright act that can help guide artists, consumers and the courts.

Currently, copyrighted works are protected for the life of the authors plus 70 years. Pallante proposed changing the rule to life-plus-50 years unless heirs register with the Copyright Office.

No one at Wednesday's hearing mentioned the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the controversial copyright enforcement bill that Congress pulled last year after a massive online protest. Pallante expressed dismay at the "tone" of the debate over copyright protection, and said that foreign websites offering pirated content are still a problem.