Lawmakers looking to strip Big Tech of legal liability protections have zeroed in on prosecuting those companies when their users stream copyrighted works.
Sen. Thom Tillis, who is leading the charge against online copyright infringement or “piracy,” grilled executives from Facebook, YouTube and other tech companies Tuesday about their complicity in the theft of intellectual property.
“Some in Big Tech aren’t serious about stopping online piracy, and I’m not sure why that is,” he said at a hearing. “Maybe it just isn’t a priority or maybe some companies are actually profiting off the piracy on their site.”
It was a shot across the bow for the looming battle over removing the host of legal protections that have been a cornerstone of the internet.
Mr. Tillis, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property that hosted the hearing, said he was just trying to get to the facts.
“I have no predisposition for any one platform,” he said.
His bill to make platforms such as Facebook and YouTube liable for users’ pirating has already gained bipartisan support in the Senate.
It is estimated that the criminal streaming costs the American economy nearly $30 billion each year. Many multinational and multibillion-dollar companies allegedly don’t use the tools they have to stop the theft.
YouTube and Facebook insisted that they work with copyright holders of all sizes to protect their work online.
Katherine Oyama, YouTube global director of business public policy, said her company is invested in its users’ content and has paid more than $5.5 billion to rights’ holders in ad revenue from content claimed through one of its copyright management tools.
“Our efforts to fight piracy on YouTube do not stop with our copyright management suite,” Ms. Oyama said. “As the challenge of online piracy evolves we are continually working with rights holders to improve our policies, tools, features, and functionality.”
Despite YouTube and Facebook claiming that they are working to better serve users and copyright holders, a reckoning from lawmakers is headed their way.
If the lawmakers’ felony streaming proposal is enacted, the copyright battles with Big Tech and video streaming platforms could mirror copyright legal battles that bankrupted Napster, an online music store, in 2002.
Twitter, which has been a focus of Mr. Tillis’ effort, refused to attend the hearing.
Recording Industry Association of America CEO Mitch Glazier testified about Twitter’s inattention to copyright complaints.
“Over the past two years, the music industry has sent Twitter notices of over 3 million infringements for over 20,000 works — so this is piracy at an industrial, massive scale,” said Mr. Glazier at the hearing. “This is not some small problem and unlike Facebook and YouTube, they have done nothing to at least build tools or to help prevent what is by its nature a viral system where pirates can spread literally in microseconds.”
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times.
The felony copyright proposal could take effect before 2021 begins, as efforts to ensure its inclusion in the end-of-year spending package are underway.
Regardless of whether Mr. Tillis’ crackdown on Big Tech succeeds this month, he said he is intent on pursuing the large technology companies for the next six years.
“Everyone knows legislating takes time, it’s painstaking and it involves many years of negotiations and compromise,” he said. “It is probably going to take my entire second term to get this bill across the finish line.”
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