A PERIOD OF CONSULTATION has led our government to think that 10 years in prison is a suitable punishment for sharing copyrighted material online.
The figure was arrived at by Baroness Rolfe and her thinkers, and is the result of an almost year-long consultation into whether two years in jail is enough, or whether an extra eight is required.
"These offences are currently punishable by a maximum of two years' imprisonment. By comparison, the maximum custodial sentence for infringement in respect of physical goods is 10 years," said the Intellectual Property Office report (PDF).
"In July 2015, the government consulted on proposed changes to the maximum term for online copyright infringement, increasing it from two to 10 years to make it consistent with the penalty for physical copyright infringement."
Consistency is king, apparently, and the 10-year sentence was settled on despite objections from the Open Rights Group (ORG) and others.
A report on the BBC quoted Baroness Rolfe as saying that a decade in prison is likely to act as a deterrent. She's probably right.
"The government takes copyright crime extremely seriously. It hurts businesses, consumers and the wider economy online and offline. Our creative industries are worth more than £7bn to the UK economy and it's important to protect them from online criminal enterprises," she said.
"By toughening penalties for commercial-scale online offending we are offering greater protections to businesses and sending a clear message to deter criminals."
The government has produced a pie chart of responses to the change, showing that the ORG accounted for 90 per cent of them. Three per cent were from members of the public, while six per cent were from companies and organisations.
We asked the ORG for its view on the results of the consultation, and it said that it could see some sparks of light, notably about a narrower scope of offences.
"We note that the minister has committed to narrowing the scope of the offence. We need to see that it relates to genuinely commercial infringements," said Jim Killock, executive director at the ORG.
"In particular the test of prejudicially affecting the copyright holder needs to go, and a test for actual knowledge needs to be present.
"We would welcome further discussions with [Baroness Rolfe] and the Intellectual Property Office to understand how the government seeks to ensure these new sentences are not abused to threaten people whose civil copyright misdemeanours are not deserving of custodial sentences." µ
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