The UK government plans to quintuple the maximum prison sentence for online pirates — from two to 10 years.
Britain’s Intellectual Property Office has published the results of a consultation launched last year into increasing the possible penalties facing people who engage in online copyright infringement. The vast majority of respondents — around 98% — opposed an increase, but the UK Government is pushing ahead anyway.
“We are now proposing changes that include increasing the maximum sentence, but at the same time addressing concerns about the scope of the offence,” Baroness Neville-Rolfe, minister for intellectual property, wrote in a response. “The revised provisions will help protect rights holders, while making the boundaries of the offence clearer, so that everyone can understand how the rules should be applied.”
If the change makes it into law, you’re unlikely to face a decade-long jail sentences if you’re just streaming the occasional movie. It will probably be reserved for people running major piracy-enabling sites who are directly financially profiting from copyright infringement.
The government’s rationale for the increase is that it brings the penalty into line with those for crimes involving physical goods. “The Government believes that online offences should be treated no less seriously than their physical counterparts,” the official response to the consultation says. “Harmonising these will provide a deterrent effect to criminals and, where criminality continues, provide for tangible punitive action.”
The consultation simply asked: “Should the maximum custodial sentence available for online and offline copyright infringement of equal seriousness be harmonised at 10 years?”
It received 1,011 responses — of which just 21, around 2%, supported the increase. Most of the responses were initiated by a campaign from Open Rights Group (ORG), a digital rights advocacy body. Even removing those which the consultation identified as being sparked by ORG, around two-thirds still opposed the increase — 73 to 21.