The U.K. government is to increase the maximum fine for intellectual-property infringement from US$7,520 to US$75,200.
Following a consultation by the U.K. Intellectual Property Office (IPO), a majority of respondents
supported the increase in the maximum fine, known as an exceptional statutory
maxima. Respondents included the Publisher's Association, the British
Phonographic Industry and the Alliance Against Intellectual Property Theft.
The government will now "work to identify suitable legislative options" to
increase the fine, the consultation document stated.
Respondents were presented with three options: to maintain the current
maximum fine, to increase the maximum fine for copyright infringement, or to
increase the maximum fine for all intellectual-property infringement. The
majority of respondents--most of which were organizations representing
copyright holders--chose the third option.
A number of respondents also "expressed concern" that there was no option to
give jail terms for online copyright infringement. The Gowers Review of
Intellectual Property, published in 2006, had recommended that jail terms for
online copyright infringement be brought in line with sentences for commercial
dealing in illegally copied works, which have a 10-year maximum sentence. The
option of courts imposing ten years in prison for online property infringement was not, however, given by the IPO.
The fines are designed to discourage commercial production of counterfeit
software and other illegally copied works. However, U.K. intellectual property
does not make a distinction between large-scale production and an individual making a private copy of a work.
The Open Rights Group (ORG), a digital civil-liberties organization, said
that, while the commercial production of pirated works should be penalized, it
would be helpful to have a 'fair use' clause built into IP legislation to
prevent small-scale, domestic file-sharers being unnecessarily prosecuted.
"What this shows is that there is a very real need to separate out domestic
individuals who may be infringing copyright, but not making a profit, from
criminal gangs engaged in industrial-scale intellectual-property infringement,"
Jim Killock, ORG executive director, told ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet UK on Wednesday. "The way things
are headed with enforcement at the moment, the IPO has to be careful not to get those two groups mixed up."
However, intellectual-property expert Iain Connor, a partner at Pinsent
Masons, told ZDNet UK that people sharing files would be unlikely to face U.K. prosecution.
"The purpose of raising the penalties is to try to deal with commercial
infringers," said Connor. "Trading Standards will not prosecute a boy in his bedroom."
Connor added that prosecutors would take action only in serious cases,
and that it was "necessary to have available to judges a penalty which is liable
to serve as a deterrent" to commercial copyright infringers.