At one point it was thought the bill would be added to the COVID-19 relief bill, or that there would be one large bill, but it wound up on the $1.4 trillion omnibus bill that would keep the government running past midnight.

Studios, independent producers, and unions have pushed for at least a decade without success to get Congress to make stealing video streams a felony, as it is for illegally copying and distributing copyrighted TV shows and movies. But that was before must-see TV had morphed into “must stream video,” as FCC chairman Ajit Pai put it last month, with the COVID-19 pandemic putting an even bigger spotlight on streaming as a way for folks to remotely entertain themselves.

Fox was said to have put a priority on closing the streaming loophole after the company got more into live programming after the sale of its Fox film and TV studios to Disney. 

Currently, a pirated stream is treated as an illegal performance, which is a misdemeanor, rather than illegal reproduction and distribution, which is a felony. Making it a felony would mean larger penalties, potential prison time, both of which would be a greater deterrent.

The bill is targeted to large-scale, criminal, for profit, streaming services, not good faith business disputes or noncommercial activities. It does not target individuals who access the pirated streams or unwittingly stream unauthorized copies of copyrighted works.

The Obama Administration asked Congress to “clarify” that streaming illegal content, as well as downloading it, was a felony, an effort pushed by then White House Intellectual Property Enforcement coordinator Victoria Espinel, but ultimately to no avail.