Online piracy isn’t something that happened in the late-90s; it’s a continued scourge on a now-decimated recording industry. It’s also a massive-and-growing threat to larger industries like television, film, and gaming.
But is this a battle that can be fought by stiffer penalties and heavier hammers?
Welcome to the debate in Britain, where long, decade-long prison terms for online copyright infringement are being soundly rejected by the public, with copyright violations themselves not being viewed as a serious crime.
Currently, British statutes call for two-year term maximums. And that may be the extent of it: according to just-released survey data, nearly 98% of the British public hate the idea of a long-term lockup for infringement.
The debate over prison terms started last year, when UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) recommended far stiffer incarceration for large-scale online piracy. The recommendation was taken very seriously by the British government, which announced plans to pursue full, ten-year prison term maximums to adequately deter infringement activity.
For starters, the shift would better align copyright infringement penalties with crimes like counterfeiting, as determined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It would also create a totally different terrain for UK-hosted piracy operators.
The British public seems to disagree. Part of the resistance comes from the crime itself, which is not being viewed as a serious offense, especially against bigger crimes like murder, violent attacks, terrorism, and rape. “10 years is too high; copyright infringement is not a serious crime” was one oft-repeated survey comment, though it should be noted that a large percentage of the survey respondents came through the Open Rights Group, a non-profit dedicated to online freedoms and less-restrictive copyright laws.
Another major concern was the possibility of abuse by judges against small-time swappers, and even those unaware of copyright law. Specifically, a lack of language specifically targeting commercial, large-scale infringers was missing, opening the door to small-scale violators facing big-scale penalties.
So, shut the ten-year initiative down? On this, the Intellectual Property Office remained totally vague, especially given the likely skew of the findings. “This proposal has clearly struck a chord with many stakeholders, which is reflected in the high number of responses,” the report concluded. “As a result, the Government is now carefully considering the best way forward.”
Top image by Claire, CC by 2.0.