The UK government is to increase the maximum fine for intellectual-property infringement from £5,000 to £50,000.
Following a consultation by the 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 organisations 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, UK 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 organisation, said that, while the commercial production of pirated works should be penalised, 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 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 UK 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.