A New Congressional Amendment Has the Potential to Change Game Streaming Forever

By Elijah Labby Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Nearly everyone in our modern American society participates in some sort of video streaming. Some do it for fun and others for business. From Amazon Prime to Netflix to Hulu and HBO Max, the breadth of television programming that exists at the tips of our fingers is astounding and nearly endless. But a new segment of the streaming market—video game streaming—is rapidly taking off as millions watch their favorite gamers play their favorite games on websites like Twitch and YouTube.

The video game streaming trend has taken the gaming market by storm and benefited from numerous recent blockbuster online events to musicians like Travis Scott and others.

The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act

For the most part, the rise of this trend has gone unquestioned, but an amendment to recent legislation could put the future of streaming in jeopardy.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced the amendment, which he dubbed the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act. The amendment is intended to be added to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the much-debated COVID-19 stimulus bill that passed on December 27.

The bill, according to Geek Wire, would drastically increase the penalty for the illegal streaming of copyrighted materials online — raising it from a misdemeanor to a felony, and carrying with it a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. You can read the entire text of the proposed amendment here.

The amendment is not intended to “sweep in normal practices by online service providers, good faith business disputes, noncommercial activities, or in any way impact individuals who access pirated streams or unwittingly stream unauthorized copies of copyrighted works,” Tillis said in a statement.

The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act’s Potential Side Effects

However, Geek Wire, in an article titled “How the COVID-19 relief bill could change the future of game livestreaming in the U.S.,” argues that the amendment could have a detrimental impact on the bottom line of streaming services by potentially rendering live play of video games illegal.

The article admits that the possibility is, at most, unlikely, but posits that the amendment’s language is sufficiently vague for video game companies to argue that they did not, in fact, give permission for large-scale streaming of their games, and are thus a violation of Tillis’ proposed legislation.

The amendment has garnered bipartisan support from the likes of Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), John Cornyn (R-TX), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and David Perdue (R-GA).

Tillis said the amendment was an opportunity to stop crimes he says “costs the U.S. economy nearly $30 billion every year.”

“The shift toward streaming content online has resulted in criminal streaming services illegally distributing copyrighted material,” he said. “....This commonsense legislation was drafted with the input of creators, user groups, and technology companies and is narrowly targeted so that only criminal organizations are punished and that no individual streamer has to worry about the fear of prosecution.”

The Video Game Market and Potential Consequences of New Legislation

If the legislation were to disrupt this industry, it would have wide-reaching consequences. The video game market was worth $180 billion as of 2019, and generates more revenue than both movies and music. Moreover, Amazon acquired Twitch for $1 billion in 2014 and has since spawned a slew of competitors like Microsoft’s Mixer.

Still, says Doron Nir, the chief executive of StreamElements, a company that provides tools for livestreaming online games, Twitch is a behemoth.

“When it comes to having a streaming platform, this is a billion-dollar game,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s going to take a lot more from Mixer to really take away from the enormous audience that Twitch has.”

However, with more and more newcomers like Facebook attempting to move into the space, anything is possible. And when market forces combine with legislative side effects, the possibility for a serious shift in this growing market is even greater.

About the Author

Headshot for author Elijah Labby

Elijah Labby is a graduate of the National Journalism Center. He has previously written for Broadband Breakfast, a technology and internet policy website.

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