UK faces big backlash on longer sentences for online pirates

The UK government is proposing a maximum penalty of 10 years.

The results are in and surprise surprise, the public doesn't agree with the UK government's proposal to raise the maximum sentence for online copyright infringement. Policymakers want to increase the limit set by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 from two to ten years, matching the cap for physical goods. A campaign by the Open Rights Group (ORG) has triggered a wave of discontent towards the government's consultation, however. Over 900 responses were created with ORG's submission form, contributing to 1,011 opposing voices in total. In comparison, there were 21 supporters for the 10-year limit -- 20 businesses and 1 individual.

The general view from the opposition is that a 10 year sentence would be "too high" and that online copyright infringement "is not a serious crime." The ORG has put forward a more complex argument for why the 10-year limit would be a mistake, however. It says the basis for online violations is different to physical goods because it only needs to be a "communication to the public." In other words, it just needs to be available somewhere online. As such, it's easier for people to be caught unwittingly -- for instance, sharing a fan dubbed movie or a Let's Play -- and the nature of the internet means the projected damages will be higher.

Those that support the raised limit say that online piracy is "no less serious than that of physical, and therefore shouldn't be treated any differently." These respondents also believe the maximum sentence would "act as a powerful deterrent" for anyone involved in illegal file-sharing.

It's now down to the British government to address the responses and decide the best way forward. In its summary of the consultation, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) says it recognises the proposal has "struck a chord" with the public, but "remains committed to tackling those engaged in online criminality." The war hasn't been won, but internet users have certainly made clear which side of the battlefield they stand on.