User streaming sites such as Justin.tv, Veetle and others have become popular destinations for folks looking to enjoy cable entertainment sans cable. No judgements here, friend, but the U.S. senate may not be so lenient: a new law could mean up to five years in prison for streamers of copyrighted content.
So, what would constitute an illegal stream? Well, we could just say "any copyrighted material," but honestly the waters here are pretty murky. There're some easy gimmes: all of you out there streaming big sporting events, for instance, are in the line of fire.
But what about all of the hobbyist streams? Video games are a popular option, for instance, and really the only thing determining whether or not you're in the wrong is the whim of the game's publisher. It's easy to imagine well-meaning streamers get in trouble unknowingly.
If the bill becomes a law, then this is how it will ultimately go down: "the offense consists of 10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works." That does sound like it'll catch the willful offenders, at least.
In the end, what this bill really does is put copyrighted streaming in the same illegal basket as downloading or uploading copyrighted material. In the past, it was a gray area, itself. Since streaming is a relatively new frontier, this greater definition of the act and technology in the eyes of the law is on one hand a necessary step, or on the other an inevitable one.
In the long run, though, if companies really want to stop the piracy of their protected material, they should probably do what the pirates do: offer an easier, faster and in some regards superior way to consume the content.