Good news for anti-piracy groups and some bad news for pirates along with piracy websites that share illegal content on the web for free: The Digital Economy Bill presented in the United Kingdom parliament has reached the report stage.
What that means is that, while it hasn’t become an official law at the moment, there is a strong chance that, eventually, it will.
And because the digital economy bill hasn’t become a law yet, pirates can rest easy because there is still hope (for pirates and piracy websites) that the bill could be amended sometimes in the future before it comes, officially, the law.
With that said, in its current form, any pirate who is found to have uploaded a piece of content that is copyrighted or any file without prior permission from copyright holders, will go to jail for up to ten years.
That is, it doesn’t matter how much content a pirate uploads. Any amount of uploaded content that is infringing upon the rights of its creators could result in the pirate being thrown into prison for up to ten years.
However, the best part about the news is that the Digital Economy Bill has finally been published and hence the public (like us) can finally have a look at what all the fuss is about and study the effects (if any) of the bill on file-sharers and pirates.
As indicated before, earlier this week in the United Kingdom, the esteemed members of the parliament discussed, or rather debated, the Report stage of the Digital Economy Bill. This was also the Third Reading of the aforementioned bill in the House of Commons.
As of now, the bill is in a form that essentially makes broad strokes in determining who or what can be considered to be a pirate or piracy website. In other words, the Digital Economy bill, in its current form, is rather wide in scope and is perfectly capable of irritating a lot of internet users along with pirates in a vast number of ways.
According to a story published in the media by The Guardian this week, if the Digital Economy bill passes in its current shape, then a lot of internet users who reside in the United Kingdom will get banned from certain websites.
From Which Websites Exactly?
At the moment, it is expected that websites which represent specific sex acts along with other forms of adult content will get the ax and any person accessing those websites from the internet inside the territory of United Kingdom will be barred from doing so.
The interesting part is that some of the banned websites portray exactly the same content that is considered to be legal (when done between two consenting adults) in the country at the moment.
Moreover, websites which do not make enough efforts to bar residents of the United Kingdom from visiting them will be blocked by the government.
Of course, this ruling applies to only those websites whose content has been banned by the Digital Economy bill. And we’re assuming here that the bill passes the House of Commons in its current state without any amendments.
TorrentFreak, which is a popular torrent news media outlet, has done a detailed study on the contents of the Digital Economy bill and the repercussions of the bill on stakeholders such as pirates and piracy websites.
TorrentFreak has also noted the effects of the bill (proposed bill to be more accurate) and the recommended changes to Copyrights, Designs, and Patents Act 1988, or CDPA. This bill, as indicated earlier as well, will largely affect people (or pirates) who share copyrighted protected on the internet for all users to download without any charge or prior permission from the creators of that copyrighted content.
As has been reported in the media countless times before today, the main aim of the government in introducing the Digital Economy bill is to synchronize the already present penalties for infringers who do their business in the offline world with those who carry out the same tasks (of piracy) in the online world.
Presumably, the best way to do that was to bring up a bill which would increase the duration of the maximum jail sentence in the case of a conviction. Now the maximum penalty has been modified from two years to ten years in prison if found guilty of uploading and sharing copyrighted content on the internet for all to download without any additional charges or permission from the creators of the content.
However, the bill published recently (actually just this week) goes a bit further and as a result adds a bit more meat on the bones.
Under the present law, things are much more forgiving in the sense that section 107 (which deals with criminal liabilities related to production or dissemination of copyrighted material without proper permission) current stands as follows:
(2A) A person who infringes copyright in a work by communicating the work to the public —
(a) in the course of a business, or
(b) otherwise than in the course of a business to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright,
commits an offense if he knows or has reason to believe that, by doing so, he is infringing copyright in that work.
As mentioned earlier as well, the bill is still in Report stage and there is room for potential changes, so any mention of the bill here may become irrelevant once more changes have been made to the present shape of the Digital Economy bill.
On the other hand though, the latest draft of the Digital Economy bill comes with amendments that essentially do not mention anything substantial about engaging in activities that result in infringement of copyrighted material during the course of business.
What do we get instead?
As of now, the bill says that for any person to be considered criminally liable and held for charges of distributing copyrighted material (read: uploading files on piracy websites such as KickassTorrents, now closed, or thepiratebay.org) the authorities only need to have a good enough reason to suspect that something along the line may be able to infringe copyrighted content because of which the person in question makes a personal gain (such as money) or again for some other party (money for the boss or owner of the website or of the business such as Megaupload or Kim dotcom).
Moreover, a person could also be held criminally liable if the act of distribution of copyrighted content results in a loss for the copyright owner of the content. More specially, even if the owner of the copyrighted content is exposed to the risk of loss, a person may be considered to be a criminal (a pirate?).
(2A) A person (“P”) who infringes copyright in a work by communicating the work to the public commits an offense if P —
(a) knows or has reason to believe that P is infringing copyright in the work, and
(b) either —
(i) intends to make a gain for P or another person, or
(ii) knows or has reason to believe that communicating the work to the public will cause loss to the owner of the copyright, or will expose the owner of the copyright to a risk of loss.
The language of the bill might sound dense but reading with context, it should become clear that two words an extremely important if one wants to interpret the bill in its current form correctly.
Those two words are “gain” and “loss.”
But as with all things related to law, there is always plenty of wiggle room and hence to avoid a situation where the bill could have vastly different interpretations, the draft sets the bar for being criminally liable as low as it can possibly go while remaining practical.
(2B) For the purposes of subsection (2A) —
(a) “gain” and “loss” —
(i) extend only to gain or loss in money, and
(ii) include any such gain or loss whether temporary or
(b) “loss” includes a loss by not getting what one might get.
And this isn’t the end of it either. There are reports about similar proposed changes to section 198 of Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This section specifically deals with the criminal liability for making, dealing with or using illicit recordings.
If one heads over to the official website here and reads, the description put up by the Crown Prosecution Service states that these are recordings made without the consent of the performer (piracy or bootlegging, in other words, things that normal pirates do on a regular basis).
It also states that bootlegging is the recording, duplication, and sale of a performance such as a live concert stage performance without the permission of the performer.
And as was the case with modifications that were made to section 107, there are now no more amendments in section 198 related to offenses that are carried out in the course of a business. Of course, here, we are comparing the proposed Digital Economy bill with the references that are present in the current legislation.
The wording, in the proposed bill, has been changed to closely match that of the section discussed above:
(1A) A person (“P”) who infringes a performer’s making available right in a recording commits an offense if P —
(a) knows or has reason to believe that P is infringing the right, and
(i) intends to make a gain for P or another person, or
(ii) knows or has reason to believe that infringing the right will cause loss to the owner of the right, or expose the owner of the right to a risk of loss.
As pointed out earlier as well, the amendments made to section 107 are quite similar to the ones that are made to the previous sections. That is, in order for a person to be found criminally liable as a pirate (copyright infringer legally speaking), one would only need to prove that a copyright holder was exposed to the risk of loss.
That is, a risk of loss, not an actual loss if that wasn’t clear enough already.
We also know that British MPs have reiterated several times in the past that many of the points being introduced through the new Digital Economy bill will not be used to target the average person that is going about his or her business on the street and will also not be aimed towards those who are just casual file-sharers.
Of course, when we study the legislative amendments, do we begin to realize that there is basically nothing in the proposed amendments that protect a person from being charged with piracy if he/she has shared even a single piece of copyrighted content such as a movie, book, or TV series among other things.
To put it another way, a person could get branded as a criminal or more specifically a pirate and then as a result get punished by the state for a period of up to ten years for uploading or sharing a single file on the internet for others to download free or charge and without consent from the producers of that piece of copyrighted content.
If you want to read the whole thing then you can go here and read it for yourself and come to your conclusions about the proposed changes that British members of parliament plan to introduce into the present legislation assuming the bill indeed gets passed through the house in its current form.
What is your take on the new bill and the proposed amendments? Does it violate the right of the average internet user living in the United Kingdom? How would it affect the digital economy of the United Kingdom as a whole when once uploaded file could get you a sentence of ten years in jail and probably ruin your life?
Do let us know your thoughts and comments on the issue of piracy and the proposed digital economy bill by using the comments section below.
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