Going Equipped

Adrian Farrel's picture

Section 25 of the 1968 Theft Act created the offence of "going equipped" for burglary or theft and refers to the possession of housebreaking implements including any item that is designed to be used to carry out a theft or burglary, as well as any items made specifically by a thief for use in committing a burglary.

The CPS [1] says that that law makes it an offence to knowingly possess an article for use in the course of or in connection with theft/ burglary and observes that the possession of the article must occur before the commission of the offence.

The CPS goes on to say that "Prosecutors should consider the evidence as a whole in order to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence that the item is possessed for use or in connection with theft. Possession of an item alone, such as an empty rucksack or a pair of gloves, may be insufficient to found a charge of going equipped."

But while current copyright law in the UK introduced in 2014 [2] allows you to make legal copies of digital content that you own for the purpose of backups or switching to another medium, it is highly ambiguous with respect to media protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) locks. The law says that if you wish to remove the DRM access control on digital content you may apply to the Secretary of State.

While the 2014 copyright reforms were hailed as a victory by the Open Rights Group (ORG) [3] they also observe that "The exception is limited to personal use of lawfully obtained originals, and does not allow any sharing of the works, including with close family members. It also does not allow for the removal of any anti-copy technical protection measures, including those found on most DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. Given most media consumption is moving to a pure digital environment constrained by such measures, it remains to be seen how effective the new right will be in practice."

In fact, the current law makes it unlawful to circumvent effective technological measures that restrict access to copyrighted material, even if doing so is required for lawful use, without an application to the Secretary of State. That appears to mean that if you want to make a backup of a film that you have bought you have to ask for Government permission!

But worse, it is illegal to produce, distribute, and possess tools to aid in removing DRM locks. If you are carrying such a piece of software you are effectively going equipped in the digital world.

The Pirate Party thinks that these laws are extreme and in its manifesto for the 2017 General Election [4] it states its intention to see them abolished. That doesn't change the laws of copyright theft, but would make it possible for people to make legal copies of things they already own for backup or to access using other applications. It would also make it possible for libraries and archives to make stores of cultural material. And it would make it possible for those with disabilities (for example, the visually impaired) to have electronic access to material such as e-books so that they can convert the content into a form that they can use.

It should not be a crime to possess a tool that would allow you to use on your own property. Just as it should not be a crime to carry a screwdriver, a gemmy, a hammer and chisel from your home to your workshop. And, frankly, if you choose to break down your own back door, that is your own business. It is the crime that we should focus on, not the possession of tools or software. And access to your own possessions should never be a crime.

[1] https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/public_disorder_-_guidance_for_prose...(august_2011)/#going
[2] https://edri.org/uk-format-shifting-and-parody-copyright-laws-come-into-...
[3] https://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2014/victory-format-shifting-and-pa...
[4] https://www.pirateparty.org.uk/sites/default/files/library/OpenManifesto...