Our Government has always been one step behind when trying to legislate for technology. Since the Computer Misuse Act 1990 we've had very broad definitions of what can constitute a punishment under the law. Now the Intellectual Property Office is continuing this bad trend while blurring the lines between the different kinds of copyright breach. A consultation has been launched that threatens to increase existing criminal penalties for online file sharing from a maximum of 2 years, to a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment.
The "Consultation on the changes to the penalties for offences under sections 107(2A) and 198(1A) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988"  assumes that online copyright offences are capable of causing serious harm, while the independent report they cite titled 'Penalty Fair?' made no such assertion.
The report actually states (emphasis added):
"The precedents within the IP landscape are either to leave offences outside the criminal justice system altogether (as in the case of patents) or to set a maximum offence on conviction of ten years. Fundamentally, either online copyright offences are capable of causing serious harm, or they are not."
The consultation pretends to be seeking advice and claims they wish to act on evidence, yet with no evidence at all, they appear to have already concluded:
"There is no doubt that copyright infringement is serious and there is no strong case for treating online infringement any differently to physical infringement. The links to other criminal behaviour are clear; criminal gangs are making vast sums of money through exploiting the creations of others, causing real harm to those individuals, their industry and the wider economy."
An Ofcom report from 2013 revealed, however, that file-sharing consumers actually spent more than three times as much on content than their non-sharing counterparts . There is no evidence presented in the report or consultation to support the claim of links to other criminal behaviour, and this goes against all other evidence available.
Pirate Party Leader, Cris Chesha, said:
"Study after study has shown that (beyond a point) increasing penalties does not reduce unwanted behavior. In the case of file sharing, fines have already been increased from £5,000, first to £50,000, and subsequently have been made unlimited, yet there has not been a corresponding decrease in file sharing.
This consultation is clearly posturing in favour of draconian prison sentences for online file sharing - a 'crime' that an estimated 20 million people in the UK would freely admit to. Yet again we see attempts by the copyright lobby to write laws designed to criminalise and punish the electorate. Laws should work for the people, not against them; we need to make sure our voices are heard and put this consultation where it belongs: in the bin.
Finally, of course, let's not forget that prison should be about rehabilitation, not punishment. File sharers typically do not commit their 'crime' with intent; imposing any custodial sentence at all is absolutely inappropriate in the case of file sharing. Pirate Party UK do not believe file sharing should be a criminal offence at all, and we would take this opportunity to urge the UK government to reclassify it as a civil matter."
Along with other digital rights organisations such as the Open Rights Group, the Pirate Party have responded to the consultation in the strongest possible terms. You can see our response here  as well as that of the Open Rights Group here . We would also encourage everyone to respond in their own words, with evidence, to show the strength and depth of feeling on this issue; you can respond via the Open Rights Group's online form .
[1 ] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-penalties-for-online-copyright-infringement