On December 27th, President Donald Trump signed into law an omnibus bill that contained the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020. The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act makes it a felony with a 5 year jail sentence for a first violation and 10 year jail sentence for a second.
Before we get ahead of ourselves here is the actual legislation of the law as sponsored by Senator Thom Tillis from his own website.
Also, I’d like to make it clear that I am NOT a lawyer and if you have questions regarding copyright then you should seek out a lawyer who specializes in copyright law. The point of this article is to build a better understanding of the law and to become aware of the potential damage this law can do if you stream on websites such as Twitch and Youtube.
So, what does this have to do with streaming video games on Twitch? Currently as of 2020, not much. Whether it is your hobby or career, the intent of the law is not aimed at the individual who is playing Valorant, Among Us or retro games.
When it comes to the law however, there are four factors that you as an individual should be aware of when it comes the law: The intent of the law, the application of the law, the interpretation of the law, and the enforcement of the law. The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020 is a perfect example of how a law of good intentions could have dangerous results.
Intent of the Law
The intent of the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020 has a simple goal, to stop people from generating private financial gain from offering or providing to the public a digital transmission of copyrighted content without permission from the owner.
I know I said simple but let’s break down what the law’s intent is with a hypothetical. Say for example you have a friend who buys a pay-per-view ticket of a boxing match from his cable company. Because your friend is tech savvy, he setups up a website and sells access to his website for half the amount of the pay-per-view ticket.
Your friend would be the intended target of the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020. He is providing a service to the public for his own financial gain using copyrighted content that he doesn’t have the authority to stream from the copyright owners.
However, the reason that every tech website and political website that talked about the dangers of the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020 is because of the application of the law and the interpretation of the law.
Application and Interpretation of the Law
If you’ve ever read a law it is one of the most complicated document you will ever read as it was written by lawyers for lawyers. Each law constantly references other sections of the law without providing the documentation and is written as specific and at the same time as broadly as possible. Which is why organizations like the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) are worried with the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020 passing. Because the intent is one thing, but how the law is applied and interpreted is another.
What makes the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020 dangerous is how broad and open-ended the law is written. In establishing the definitions within the law, all computer programs, musical work, motion pictures, and other audiovisual work is within the jurisdiction of this law. Which means a lawyer could easily interpret computer program to mean video games as they can be defined as computer programs or audiovisual work.
Another problem of the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020 is how open ended “without the authority of the copyright owner” is. Applying this law means that any copyright owner can claim that any person streaming their content does not have the authority. The dangers of broadly defined and open ended laws leaves open for multiple interpretations that can be argued with is biased for the companies that claim ownership of the content.
Enforcement of the Law
In regards to the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020, this is the last barrier as you can have a law but it has no power unless it is enforced. A good example is that a police officer could decide to not give you a ticket if you were caught speeding.
With the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020 however, it will be up to the copyright owners and the companies that own the copyright to decide if they wish to enforce this law as well as coordinate with law enforcment to detain the person they are accusing that is in violation of the law.
Companies Have Their Eye on Streaming
I want to re-emphasize that in the short term this is a new law and the intent is not focused on people who are creating content on Twitch and Youtube. However, now that there are streamers like Ninja who made $30 million from their Mixer contract. Companies now have their eye on the few content creators that are able to make a living from these platforms.
If you are a person who streams be it a hobby or are able to have it as a career, you need to be aware of laws like the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act of 2020 because any lawsuits that come from this act will affect the streaming industry and your ability to make any revenue.