The UK government is considering tougher sentencing for those found guilty of online piracy activities. A consultation about changes to The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 has been published. Changes are sought to bring the sentencing for online piracy activity in line with that for copyright infringement of physical goods – between two and a maximum of ten years. Currently the maximum sentence for online piracy activity is two years.
A copy of the consultation paper, entitled 'Changes to penalties for online copyright infringement', is available to download here (PDF).
The newly published paper suggests there should be changes to The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 "now that online infringement is so much more significant". It isn't the first time that the government has pondered over the sentencing for online piracy. Back in 2005 the Gowers Review recommended that the penalty for online copyright infringement should be increased from two to ten years because "The intention and impact of physical and online infringement are the same". Following that report criminal sentencing wasn't changed but maximum fines were increased from £5,000 to £50,000 and subsequently the upper limit on fines has been removed.
Earlier this year, in March, an independent review of the IP laws entitled 'Penalty Fair?', downloadable here (PDF), called for another look at harmonising online and physical IP laws. The central argument behind the review was that: "There is currently a disparity in sentencing between online and offline crime that needs to be harmonised. This sends out all the wrong messages. Until this is changed, online crime will be seen as less significant than traditional theft."
In the latest consultation paper the Intellectual Property Office raised some newer concerns about online piracy. Over the years such activity has grown to get stronger criminal links and the government says that "criminal gangs are making vast sums of money through exploiting the creations of others, causing real harm to those individuals, their industry and the wider economy." A minister at the IP Office said that creative industries contribute £7 billion to the UK economy and need greater protections – especially from "commercial-scale online offending".
As this is a consultation paper, the government is seeking responses upon its proposals. Individuals and businesses are asked to answer the question: "Should the maximum custodial sentence available for online and offline copyright infringement of equal seriousness be harmonised at 10 years?" and are further asked to "justify your answer and support with evidence where possible". Reponses must be received by 17th August 2015. For further details see page seven of the consultation PDF.