Stronger Protections for Content Will Keep Streaming Pirates At Bay

Zvi Rosen

n the 1880s and 1890s, piracy of plays and operettas was rampant across America, leading to a situation where it was nearly impossible for a playwright or composer to earn a living at their trade. Congress looked at this problem and understood that the solution was not to go after the patrons of these pirate theaters. Instead, in 1897 Congress stiffened the penalties for piracy by making it a federal crime to put on a theatrical production for profit without paying the owner of the copyright in the show a federal crime.

Fast forward to today, and the theater is increasingly at home, especially considering the impact of Covid, but also more generally as TVs get bigger and the legitimate streaming marketplace becomes more crowded. With streaming increasingly the future, Congress recently plugged a gap in the law regarding criminal liability for unlawful performance of copyrighted material. It is now a federal crime to run a pirate streaming service for profit, the same as it has long been a federal crime to publicly perform copyrighted works for profit in a host of other settings.

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Zvi Rosen

Assistant Professor

Southern Illinois University School of Law