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The White House today proposed sweeping revisions to U.S. copyright law, including making "illegal streaming" of audio or video a federal felony and allowing FBI agents to wiretap suspected infringers.
In a 20-page white paper (PDF), the Obama administration called on the U.S. Congress to fix "deficiencies that could hinder enforcement" of intellectual property laws.
• The White House is concerned that "illegal streaming of content" may not be covered by criminal law, saying "questions have arisen about whether streaming constitutes the distribution of copyrighted works." To resolve that ambiguity, it wants a new law to "clarify that infringement by streaming, or by means of other similar new technology, is a felony in appropriate circumstances."
• Under federal law, wiretaps may only be conducted in investigations of serious crimes, a list that was expanded by the 2001 Patriot Act to include offenses such as material support of terrorism and use of weapons of mass destruction. The administration is proposing to add copyright and trademark infringement, arguing that move "would assist U.S. law enforcement agencies to effectively investigate those offenses."
• Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it's generally illegal to distribute hardware or software--such as the DVD-decoding software Handbrake available from a server in France--that can "circumvent" copy protection technology. The administration is proposing that if Homeland Security seizes circumvention devices, it be permitted to "inform rightholders," "provide samples of such devices," and assist "them in bringing civil actions."