10 years’ for online copyright infringement

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The Government has announced its intention to increase the maximum term of imprisonment for online copyright infringement to 10 years.  The current maximum term is two years.  An increase to 10 years would match the maximum term for copyright infringement in physical goods.

The Government’s consultation on increasing the maximum custodial term for online copyright infringement elicited a number of negative responses with respondents suggesting that online copyright infringement could and should not be equated with other offences that carry the same maximum custodial term, such as child cruelty, firearms offences and rioting.   Undeterred, the Government intends to introduce new legislation into the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, explaining that there is no logical reason why the online offence should be treated any differently from its physical counterpart.

There is a clear economic rationale to the legislative proposals as well, given the growing impact of online copyright infringement on the country’s creative industries. Even so, the scope of the legislation is striking; it could, for example, catch a private individual engaged in uploading unauthorised films or music to file sharing websites.  The Government has stated, however, that the maximum term should not apply in practice to low level infringement with minimal effects and where the individuals concerned were unaware of the impact of their behaviour.