The House of Commons has agreed to bring in significant changes to the copyright law that will mean someone convicted of software piracy could face ten years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
The move is an attempt to crack down on those who create and sell counterfeit goods -- a practice that is estimated to cost the UK billions of pounds and thousands of jobs each year.
The changes are contained in the Copyright, etc. and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Bill, a private member's bill brought by Dr Vincent Cable MP, the Liberal Democrat trade and industry spokesman. Having completed its passage through the House of Commons last Friday, the bill must now be approved by the House of Lords. It is expected to become law this autumn.
The current maximum penalty for the "wilful making for sale or dealing in infringing copies of copyright material" -- such as software, videos and music -- is two years. By raising it to ten years the bill makes it a much more serious crime and brings it into line with trademark theft.
The consumer minister, Melanie Johnson, said that the government was committed to bringing in tougher penalties for those who knowingly deal in copied copyright material.
"Many people think that (a) counterfeiting crime is relatively harmless -- no more than loveable rogues selling cheap, fake goods from battered suitcases. The reality is that fakes often don't work, fall apart or injure and the consumer has no redress. Those dealing in fake goods often have links with serious organised crime, including drug dealing," said Johnson in a statement.
According to government figures, intellectual property crime costs the UK economy £9bn per year, putting 4,100 people out of work.
The Copyright Bill will also make it easier for police to obtain a warrant to search premises they suspect are used for counterfeiting.