Trojan Horse: Copyright Controversy in new US Covid Relief Bill

January 14, 2021

2 min read

Sign up to our mailing list! 👇

What's going on here?

Whilst the US Covid Relief Bill is designed as a broad government funding bill to aid millions of Americans impacted by COVID-19, it appears that several key copyright reforms have been incorporated within it.

What does this mean?

Of particular controversy, is the new felony streaming law. The Bill states that “it shall be unlawful for a person to willfully, and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, offer or provide to the public a digital transmission service”. It also declares that beyond the implementation of general fines, those violating works protected under title 17 through illegally streaming content without obtaining the copyright owner’s consent, could now be “imprisoned up to 10 years for multiple offences” in this category.

Notably, the central focus of such reform is not for individuals who unintentionally stream unauthorised works or general internet users. Rather, US Senator Thom Tillis has clarified that the focus instead resides in addressing the “commercial, for-profit streaming piracy services” who are earning significant sums of money from copyrighted materials without appropriate permission. 

What's the big picture effect?

Economically, this is a sensible move for the US. Where piracy in general costs the US economy approximately “$29.2 billion in lost revenue every year,” of this figure “over 80% of all piracy” is incurred by illegal streaming. Such a move for protecting such content is also a long-awaited step forward for US copyright legislation, following the Stop Online Piracy Act failing to pass approval in 2012.

Although Senator Tillis considers this new law to be “common sense legislation” in targeting criminal organisations and “was drafted with the input of creators, user groups, and technology companies,” the appropriateness of incorporating such specific reforms within a Covid Relief Bill remains controversial. 

Many have argued that such copyright provisions have been unjustly prioritised over the central purpose for the Covid Relief Bill, whose $900bn package was designed to aid schools, health providers, unemployed, homeless and small businesses recover from the negative impact Covid has caused. As stated by Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, he validly questions how “Congressional leaders could only muster $600 stimulus checks for COVID relief, but managed to cram in handouts for content companies like Disney?” where the Bill enables copyright holders such as these larger companies, to claim damages amounting up to $30,000. 

In summary, such matters only further reaffirm PC Gamer Tyle Wilde’s observation that these copyright laws are essentially “a controversial piece of legislation stuffed into a giant US spending package,” whose necessity for incorporating such reform remains questionable.

Despite such controversy and President Trump’s hesitancy in signing the Covid Relief Bill, the 5,000 page package has now been signed. Currently awaiting the implementation of these new copyright laws, it will be interesting to see how precisely these laws are interpreted and whether improvements in the US economy are observed through their future implementation.

Report written by Karolina Smolicz

Share this now!

Check out our recent reports!