Lawmakers in the United Kingdom have warned that File-sharers who upload copyrighted material on the internet could get a sentence that would last ten years.
The United Kingdom House of Commons is presently working on bringing a new legislation that will synchronize punishment sentences to people who engage in offline and online piracy.
With that said, it is true that the ten-year maximum prison sentence is a theoretical one and is specifically aimed at pirates who have large-scale operations set up in the online piracy industry.
However, this week the United Kingdom MPs were cautioned that wording in the Digital Economy Bill was not stringent enough to keep out online file-sharers who engaged in piracy.
Readers should know that under currently United Kingdom body of laws, there is a difference between the amount of punishment for online pirates and offline pirates.
Current regulations dictate that pirates who copy and then unlawfully distribute physical media such as DVDs and CDs can be legitimately put in prison for up to ten years. One the other hand, offline pirates i.e pirates who commit illegal activities such as dissemination of copyright material without consent from the producer of that content, can only be jailed for around two years.
That, of course, does not sound fair. As a result of this discrimination against offline pirates so to speak, anti-piracy groups such as the Federation Against Copyright Theft have started to lead a movement that focuses on these anti-piracy organizations selecting to follow their own brand of private prosecutions using the allowances made under the Fraud Act. The Fraud Act basically allows organizations and groups such as the Federation Against Copyright Theft to demand much stricter punishment sentences to pirates who engage in online piracy of copyrighted material.
Something Must Be Done To Fix A “Broken” System.
As expected, the United Kingdom legislators have started to take action in an effort to amend laws that govern jail sentences to pirates who engage in the distribution of copyrighted material in the online world without prior consent from the producers of the content.
In the early part of 2016, a fresh plan was prepared in the form of a new draft. This new draft of the Digital Economy Bill consisted of all the plans that were necessary to be put into action in order to extend the present jail sentence for online pirates from the current two years to a maximum jail sentence of ten years. Coincidentally, that is the same amount of jail sentence years as in the case of offline pirates.
Relevant sections of the proposed plans amend the law related to Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Moreover, the amendments also change the word “two” to “ten.”
That is ten years in prison regardless of the fact if a pirate is operating a piracy business through online or offline means.
People familiar with the matter now believe that the bill might be on its way to successfully become a law in the very near future. To be fair to the figures behind the proposed bill, the Bill has been pushed further and further, progressively, through several stages in Britain’s House of Commons.
However, this week was significantly different from the previous ones as far as the Bill against pirates prison sentence duration was concerned. As indicated earlier, the United Kingdom MPs raised concerns regarding the precise nature of the words that were used for the proposed amendments to the present laws.
Readers interested in reading the actual thing can look at the image below which shows how the law currently stands regarding pirates and their prison sentence durations.
As can be somewhat seen in the wording of the proposed amendments, the text of the changes above does not unambiguously address what type of entities are to be targeted as a result of the amended law.
Some MPs have given much assurances that the ten-year prison sentence for online pirates is actually aimed only at pirates who carried out their business at a large-scale.
A few believe that the wording of the stated changes is not clear enough to reflect that objective.
The way these suggested amendments currently stand, it can be seriously argued that just about any online user that engages in copyright infringement could be hacked down using the laws that will come to pass if this Bill is accepted.
In other words, regardless of the size of the pirate, these changes could sweep up any and every file-sharer in the online world in its huge net.
Jim Killock, who is the executive director of the Open Rights Group, or ORG, has noted the same point in one of his recent (earlier this week actually) appearances before United Kingdom MPs.
In a conversation with another MP in the House of Commons, Nigel Adams, Jim Killock pointed out that his organization, Open Rights Group, was deeply concerned that ordinary online members of the public could fall victim to the recommended legislation changes.
Killock argued that his organization, Open Rights Group, was worried about the impact of these changes on people who should not be criminalized and who Open Rights Group thought the Government was not trying to criminalize in the related case.
He further added that Open Rights Group position was that if the Government was going to extend the prison sentence and have the same jail sentence online as offline for criminal copyright infringement, that was to say, ten years, then the government needed to be extra attentive about how the lines were drawn because the offense was quite different in the case of online pirates and offline pirates.
Killock also expressed his opinion that criminal copyright violations that took place offline were mostly, if not wholly, about criminal bands that duplicated stuff like DVDs. He said that online piracy activities were much harder to define since most of the content, if not all, looked pretty much the same act publication.
Continuing to express his view further, Killock added that if a user put something on the internet and it was a publication, how does the regulators and law enforcement agencies would tell who was the criminal and who was the slightly idiotic teenager or whatever it happened to be?
Moreover, he said that how would regulators along with law enforcement agencies make sure that people who should not be threatened with copyright criminal jail sentences were not handed out those threats?
After asking a host of other questions, Killock moved on to his second point and to illustrate the problem comprehensively, he talked about the present state of copyright violations in the country by organizations such as Golden Eye International.
Killock noted that they had no specific knowledge that these people were actually the people doing the downloading, all they knew was that somebody appeared to have downloaded some form of copyrighted material from the internet without proper permissions.
Around this time Nigel Adams, the other UK MP, intervened and stated his opinion that the new legislation did not intent on affecting regular online file-sharers.
Adams said that the idea of the Bill was not to go after people who were downloading copyrighted content from illegal online sources, but was purely for those who were uploading content for commercial gain.
He further added that the sole purpose of the new legislation was to go after folks tho specifically engaged in piracy as a means of making money off of hard working artists.
To this, Killock recorded his own response and said that it was truly unfortunate that was not how the language of the offense read.
The Open Rights Group chief further explained his point and commented that the test in the offense was that somebody was ‘causing a loss’ which was defined as not paying a license fee or was ‘causing the risk of loss’, about which Adam’s guess was as good as his.
He also said that it was essentially the same as making available because if someone had made something available and somebody else could then make a copy of that copyrighted content and then infringe copyright further and avoid further license fee, basically that was a criminal act.
To further emphasize the point, Killock said that file sharers, whether they were small or large, all appeared to be criminal copyright thieves and similarly people who were publishing things on illegal websites without a license were also potentially criminalized and that these copyright violations could be dealt with much better and more simply through civil courts and civil copyright actions.
In other words, to fix the problem of the current legislation going after, potentially, the wrong people, Killock was of the view that there was a need for a more rigorous wording of the proposed amendments to the current body of laws.
He said that what they were calling for was either to get rid of those things which were attacking individuals and wrongly bringing individuals into the scope or else put thresholds of seriousness around the risk of loss and/or causing loss.
He continued and said that something along with lines of “serious risk of causing significant loss” (and similarly with the other case as “causing serious loss”) would be a much appropriate wording of the part where the law wanted to identify potential copyright content pirates.
Killock said that a more tightening-up of the words was the way to go as far as dealing with copyright infringers.
However, the explanation from Killick was apparently not enough for the other MP in the House of Commons.
Nigel Adams, in a response to Killock’s justifications, said that if someone was knowingly uploading creative copyrighted content online for commercial gain, to his mind it did not matter if it was 50 quid (a quid is one pound sterling) or 50,000 quid, that specific someone was knowingly stealing someone else’s copyrighted content.
Killock countered by stating that the commercial gain was not part of this offense and that was what he was advocating from the beginning of the conversation.
Killock added that the offense was purely to cause loss, in other words, to not pay a license fee, or to cause risk of loss and that there was no commercial term in it.
He also clarified that one had to put the threshold somewhere in order to be fair in punishing different online copyright infringers according to the scale of their crime and that there was a dire need for an offense for the commercial activities and, separately, individuals who caused risk of loss to failed to pay the required license fee.
No matter which side of the argument holds more weight, the least one can do is appreciate Open Rights Groups for bringing up such as the important issue in the House of Commons.
It is particularly consequential because as things stand, the proposed Bill’s’ wording as far as legislation is concerned, is unacceptably wide open to interpretation.
And when a law is so much dependent on its interpretation, there is always a chance of abuse from belligerent anti-piracy groups and other copyright holders.
Of course, the suggested amendments to the legislation is still in its early stage and it remains to be seen if the changes proposed would actually be introduced into the law.
But there should be no doubt about the fact that there is a clear need for the amendments to be more specific about which online copyright violators should be sent to jail for what amount of time.
Even though the law remains murky on which pirate is a large-scale one, the one thing that is for sure is that if these issues are not addressed appropriately and in a timely manner, there is no guarantee if the loopholes in the law would not cause a significant amount of trouble in the future.
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