The government is considering increasing the penalty for violations of online piracy laws to include a jail term of up to ten years – a massive five-fold increase on the current maximum term of two years.
Ministers have launched a consultation to bring sanctions in line with those imposed on anyone who infringes copyright laws on physical goods.
The consultation comes on the back of a long campaign from groups representing the UK’s creative industry – especially the film and music industries – who argue the current sanctions are well out of date, particularly in light of how we consume content has changed with a growing number of people more prepared to stream than buy.
The new measures will target distributors of pirated content who create copies of movies and music, often before the official release date, with the intention of selling them as online downloads to hundreds of thousands of people.
Police are keen to point out the new measures aren’t aimed at small-time downloaders – meaning if you download a few songs illegally you won’t be facing a ten-year prison stretch.
Critics of the plans suggest the best way to ‘solve’ the online piracy problem is not through longer jail terms but instead to encourage distributors to more offer affordable and flexible ways to consume content – with both Netflix and Spotify offering compelling arguments.
The counter argument to that is if someone who doesn’t want to pay for their entertainment won’t be tempted by a legal service no matter how cheap it is – unless, of course, it’s free!
Intellectual Property Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: “The government takes copyright crime extremely seriously – it hurts businesses, consumers and the wider economy both on and offline. Our creative industries are worth more than £7 billion to the UK economy and it’s important to protect them from online criminal enterprises.
She added: “By toughening penalties for commercial-scale online offending we are offering greater protections to businesses and sending a clear message to deter criminals.”
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Ratcliffe, head of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, said: “Online or offline, intellectual property theft is a crime. With advances in technology and the popularity of the internet, more and more criminals are turning to online criminality and so it is imperative that our prosecution system reflects our moves to a more digital world.”