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UK considers 10-year jail sentences for online piracy

The UK government is considering new measures to increase the sanctions for criminals who infringe the rights of copyright holders for large-scale financial gain

The UK is considering increasing sentences for online piracy from a maximum of two years in jail to 10, in line with punishments for copyright infringement for physical goods.

The government has launched a consultation on the move in response to calls from creative industry groups that represent content owners for longer sentences to act as a stronger deterrent.

The proposed measures will increase the sanctions for criminals who infringe the rights of copyright holders for large-scale financial gain and will make clear that online copyright infringement is no less serious than physical infringement, the government said in a statement.

The proposed measures are mainly targeted at the creators and distributors of pirated content rather than users, according to the BBC.

Although creative industry groups have long campaigned for tougher jail terms, internet rights organisations have argued instead for affordable, flexible ways to consume film and music online.

Intellectual property minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe said the government takes copyright crime extremely seriously. “It hurts businesses, consumers and the wider economy,” she said.

According to the government, the UK’s creative industries are worth more than £7bn to the economy and support more than 1.6 million jobs.

“By toughening penalties for commercial-scale online offending, we are offering greater protection to businesses and sending a clear message to deter criminals,” said Neville-Rolfe.

Read more about copyright infringement

With advances in technology, criminals are increasingly turning to online transgressions, said Peter Ratcliffe, head of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (Pipcu).

“It is imperative our prosecution system reflects our moves to a more digital world,” said Ratcliffe.

The government consultation follows the publication of an independent review of the criminal sanctions for copyright infringement commissioned by the UK Intellectual Property Office.

The review highlights various problems associated with the prosecution of online copyright infringement and calls for a “fresh consideration” of how the existing law operates.

The government has also announced it is considering the implications of two recent High Court rulings quashing an exception permitting private copying of content.

In October 2014, the government introduced a private copying exception permitting individuals to make personal copies of copyright work for private use, such as copying CDs to use on MP3 players.

But a number of music industry stakeholders applied for judicial review of the government’s decision to introduce a private copying exception without a levy.

The judgment, handed down on 19th June 2015, concludes that, while the government correctly interpreted the law in this area, the evidence relied on to justify the conclusion that the exception caused minimal harm was inadequate and the decision to introduce the exception was therefore unlawful.

On the 17 July 2015, a further judgment was issued quashing the exception, with the effect that acts of private copying which would have fallen under the exception now constitute acts of infringement. The government said it is considering the implications of the court rulings and the available options. 

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