Legal activists and professionals are strongly opposing a UK government recommendation to extend the maximum sentence for internet piracy from two to ten years.
The experts argue that the suggested extension is ineffective, disproportionate and subjects casual file-sharers to long jail terms.
The UK government intends to extend the maximum sentence to 10 years because lawmakers argue that the present jail term is not adequate to deter copyright infringers.
The latest suggestion follows a recommendation forwarded by the Big Media influenced UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) earlier this year.
The research, which conflicts with rigorous academic studies on the issue, established that the criminal sanctions for the infringement of copyrights obtainable under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA 1988) should be altered to align them with the related crimes, such as forgery.
Before debating the proposals, the government established a public consultation, seeking advice and comments. Though the responses have yet to be published, two factions have loudly opposed the extension of the jail term.
The British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association (BILETA) gave a copy of their recommendations to various media outlets. The group’s major point is that amendments to the existing law are unnecessary.
Explaining that the new sentence would be too harsh, the group writes, “…legitimate means to tackle large-scale commercial online copyright infringement are already available and currently being used, and the suggested sentence of 10 years seems disproportionate.”
Arguing that the recommendations are infeasible, unaffordable and incompatible the European Convention on Human Rights, BILETA writes, “The freedom of expression may be interfered with if there is a ‘pressing social need’ and is proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.”
The Open Rights Group is another notable organization opposed to the government’s proposal. Jim Killock, the Executive Director, said that the administration imprecisely suggests that only large commercial offenders will be affected by the amendment.
“The proposal wraps up businesses and people who ‘affect prejudicially’ a copyright owner,” Killock notes. “There is no requirement of intent to harm, merely that the user should have known that they were violating copyright law. This makes the offense a ‘strict liability’, which is rare,” he adds.
Expressing the vagueness of the recommendations, Open Rights Group notes, “We believe it creates scope to abuse the law. It is hard to know what ‘prejudicial effect’ is. It is hard to estimate damages from online sharing or access. The fact that someone did not seek to harm a copyright owner is no defense.”
Killock adds, “The result is that people who are not really criminals, but are rather just naive users, may face punitive claims. At the very least, the risk of criminal claims means naive infringers can be pushed into accepting heavy punishments to remove the risk of long jail sentences.”
The discussion is open until next Monday and the administration will publicize the personal comments and circulate a review report afterwards.