Government mulls 10-year sentences for digital pirates

April 22, 2016 // 8:28 a.m.

Tags: #baroness-neville-rolfe #copyright #infringement #intellectual-property #ip #ipo #law #piracy #theft #uk-government

The UK government has announced it is pushing for a levelling of the penalties for digital piracy to match those of physical theft - meaning prison sentences of up to 10 years for anyone caught swapping those floppies.

Following a consultation launched in 2015, the Intellectual Property Office of the UK government received a number of replies surrounding its suggestion that the maximum penalty for digital piracy be raised from its current two years to ten years - matching the penalty for physical theft. The majority of these - 1,011 of 1,032 total responses - were against the proposal, but the government has been quick to point out that of the naysayers some 938 responses, or 91 per cent of the total, came as the result of campaigning from the Open Rights Group. From the mere 28 responses received from businesses and organisations, a total of 20 - just over 70 per cent - were in favour of the proposal.

Those supporting the suggestion argued that a two-year maximum sentence does little to deter intellectual property theft and copyright infringement and makes it hard to convince courts of the seriousness of the offence. Others argued that copyright infringement via online services is 'no less serious than that of physical [theft], therefore shouldn't be treated any differently.'

The responses in the campaign against the proposal argue differently, with the headlining - and almost certainly cherry-picked - argument being that 10 years is too high a penalty as 'copyright infringement is not a serious crime.' Other respondents argued that there is a clear difference between online and physical infringement, including that it's entirely plausible that someone could infringe accidentally with no clue as to the legality and potential consequences, and that the proposed wording could be used to inflict harsh penalties on people guilty of only minimal infringement.

'This proposal has clearly struck a chord with many stakeholders, which is reflected in the high number of
responses,
' claimed Baroness Neville-Rolfe, minister for intellectual property, in the response summary (PDF warning.) 'As a result, the Government is now carefully considering the best way forward. However, the Government remains committed to tackling those engaged in online criminality,' warned Neville-Rolfe, suggesting that despite the efforts of the Open Rights Group the proposal has not been entirely ruled out.

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