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What The COVID Relief Bill Means For Twitch Streamers

On Monday evening, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill, which includes a second COVID-19 relief check and a felony streaming act among more than 5,000 pages of other items. Republican senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina proposed the act that would turn unauthorized commercial streaming of copyrighted material into a felony offense with possible jail time earlier this month, thus frightening Twitch streamers who began to worry that one streaming mistake could have major lawful consequences. However, now that the bill is passed, it does seem that Twitch streamers are safe.

As Kotaku reported, the $2.3 trillion spending and relief package includes what Tillis called the "The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act," which states that individuals who "provide to the public a digital transmission service" that focuses on illegal streaming for commercial profit face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000. Unlike the previous implications of the proposed act, this version of the law appears to focus on services and should not greatly affect individual Twitch streamers and YouTubers.

In fact, in a response to the felony streaming act, Meredith Rose, Senior Policy Counsel of public interest nonprofit Public Knowledge, noted that the bill is "narrowly tailored and avoids criminalizing users, who may do nothing more than click on a link, or upload a file. It also does not criminalize streamers who may include unlicensed works as part of their streams."

Video game, esports, and entertainment attorney David Graham also further elaborated on Twitter that the bill is likely "not meant to take most Twitch streamers to court." He went on to guess that the felony streaming act is "intended to prevent businesses from running those streaming sites that just host & run ads against free unauthorized content, like live sports streams, new movies, etc."

In addition to the felony streaming act, other controversial copyright elements within the omnibus spending bill include the CASE Act and the Trademark Modernization Act. The CASE Act (Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement) allows copyright infringement cases to bypass the federal court system so that these disputes can be resolved by bureaucrats within the U.S. Copyright Office. Meanwhile, the Trademark Modernization Act attempts to prevent "fraudulent" trademark filings from foreign countries, though Protocol pointed out that this could lead to "trademark trolls" who make money from registering trademarks but don't use them.

Twitch streamers have already experienced troubles with copyright laws this year, thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) crackdowns on song usage in creator videos. Streamers have been on edge for months, as videos slowly started getting removed due to DMCA violations, with threats to completely ban users from the platform. Then, in October, streamers were infuriated to find that the DMCA was used to delete thousands of Twitch clips without giving creators any details on how said videos violated the act. Twitch has since admitted that this was a bad move.