​UK government releases plan to jail online pirates for up to 10 years

The UK government has released a consultation paper that could result in the penalty for online copyright infringement being made equivalent to that for copyright infringement of physical goods.

The UK government has launched a consultation paper on plans to increase the maximum sentence for online pirates from two to 10 years of imprisonment.

The proposed changes to the penalty have been outlined in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Intellectual Property Office's 'Changes to penalties for online copyright infringement' paper (PDF). Under the proposal, this could could mean the penalty for infringing on the rights of copyright holders online will be equivalent to offences relating to the copyright infringement of physical goods.

Currently under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, online pirates only can receive a maximum of two years imprisonment whereas the maximum sentence for the infringement of physical goods of 10 years.

The consultation follows recommendations made in the independent review released in March, the 'Penalty Fair?' report (PDF), which saw calls from the creative industries to harmonise online and offline copyright infringement offences, as they suggested online offences should be not seen as less serious than its physical counterparts.

The report also suggested that the vast majority of online copyright offenders have links to further criminality that seek to monetise from their activities online via advertising or subscription fees.

Intellectual Property Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said tougher penalties for online copyright infringers will provide greater protections to businesses and send a clear message to deter criminals.

"The government takes copyright crime extremely seriously -- it hurts businesses, consumers and the wider economy both on and offline. Our creative industries are worth more than £7 billion to the UK economy and it's important to protect them from online criminal enterprises," she said.

Head of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), detective chief inspector Peter Ratcliffe said the unit welcomes the consultation and the potential harmonisation criminal sanctions for online pirates.

"Online or offline, intellectual property theft is a crime. With advances in technology and the popularity of the internet, more and more criminals are turning to online criminality and so it is imperative that our prosecution system reflects our moves to a more digital world," he said.

The Australian government has also been cracking down on online piracy. In March, the Australian government introduced legislation that can force internet service providers (ISPs) to block overseas-hosted piracy websites sharing TV shows, films, and music -- a move that also received support from Labor senators.

A draft code was also jointly drawn up by ISPs and copyright holders early in the year that will see Australians receive three warning notices to curb their infringing habits, before their details are handed over to a copyright owner by court order.

The precedent to allow the court to order ISPs to give customer details to copyright holders was set by the Dallas Buyers Club court case.