The UK government has confirmed that it wants to bring in legislation increasing the maximum sentence for online copyright infringement to 10 years of imprisonment, despite widespread objections and doubts about its feasibility.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe, parliamentary under-secretary of state and minister for intellectual property, writes in her foreword to the document responding to the consultation held at the end of last year: “we are now proposing changes that include increasing the maximum sentence, but at the same time addressing concerns about the scope of the offence. 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.”
As the UK government’s summary of responses reveals, 1,032 submissions were received, of which 938 came through the Open Rights Group. Concerns raised included the fact that there was no requirement to prove that an infringer had intent to cause harm for them to be considered guilty. That meant the proposed offence had an element of “strict liability,” which would result in somebody being held liable even if they had no intention of causing harm.
The UK government has responded to that issue by saying that it accepts there are concerns, and writes: “the policy intention is that criminal offences should not apply to low level infringement that has a minimal effect or causes minimum harm to copyright owners, in particular where the individuals involved are unaware of the impact of their behaviour.”
Another major worry was the use of the term “affect prejudicially” in judging copyright infringements, which many felt was too vague and could mean a single infringing file would fulfil the requirement—for example, if it were widely shared online. Many thought this set the threshold for committing an offence far too low.
The UK government said it was not aware of any cases where minor infringement had resulted in a criminal prosecution, but “agrees that the undefined term ‘affect prejudicially’ could give rise to an element of ambiguity.” The government is now proposing to introduce “re-worded offence provisions” to address that.
However, that still leaves unanswered the important questions raised by a group of legal experts in their consultation submission. As Ars reported last year, the group called the idea of bringing in a ten-year jail sentence “not acceptable,” “not feasible,” and “not affordable.”
This post originated on Ars Technica UK