Campaigners express concern over copyright infringement in Digital Economy Bill


Campaigners express concern over copyright infringement in Digital Economy Bill

JLGutierrez /

Copyright academics, lawyers and campaigners have sent a letter to the UK government and the UK Intellectual Property Office asking for a new definition of “criminal online copyright infringement” in the Digital Economy Bill.

The letter was sent to the government on Thursday, March 23, with the campaigners asking that the new definition is narrowed so that it is “foreseeable, proportionate and reduces risk of abuse”. 

According to the letter, clause 28 of the bill defines criminal copyright infringement as “‘making available’, where a person knows or ought to know that they are infringing copyright; and are either doing so in the course of a business, or else are causing a ‘loss’ or creating a ‘risk of loss’ to the copyright owner. ‘Loss’ ‘includes a loss by not getting what one might get’”.

The bill seeks to introduce maximum ten-year prison sentences for commercial-scale online piracy. The current maximum is two years.

The signatories include Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group (ORG), Felipe Romero-Moreno, lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, and Julian Huppert, former MP for Cambridge.

In the letter, the campaigners outlined their proposals for change. 

These include setting a threshold of “commercial-scale loss” and revising “risk of loss” to “serious risk of commercial-scale loss”. 

According to the campaigners, this change will ensure that individuals infringing copyright are dealt with in civil courts and civil copyright action. 

This in turn will help “deliver the expected outcome of clause 28. Namely, to criminally prosecute only commercial-scale copyright infringers”, the letter said. 

The campaigners added that this amendment would introduce thresholds for criminal liability to avoid prosecution of minor, small-scale and non-commercial infringers such as file sharers. 

“Our changes would give the courts, lawyers, and the public a clear indication that trivial acts of file-sharing or unlicensed online publication would be unlikely to meet the thresholds of ‘serious risk’ or ‘commercial-scale’ losses,” the letter concluded.

Sister site World IP Review reported in February that ORG, a UK-based digital campaigning organisation, claimed that the proposed bill could leave UK citizens “vulnerable to blackmail”.

Following the letter, ORG's executive director Killock told TBO“The proposals could see people threatened with prison sentences for file sharing.

“Campaigners, academics and lawyers agree that the wording needs to be narrowed in order to prevent this abuse. This would not undermine the ability of rights holders to pursue genuine criminals so it’s not clear why the government is resistant to this change.”

Sally Broughton Micova, lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and another of the signatories, added: "The most important thing to me is that any efforts to protect copyright are proportional to the extent and intent of the infringements. We can't have a situation in which small-scale, not-for profit infringements are subject to random monitoring or draconian punishments without serious and unnecessary risks to freedom of expression and other communication rights."

Romero-Moreno added: "In terms of impact, the letter sends a clear message to global policymakers that in order to tackle online copyright infringement it is essential to strike a fair balance between, on the one hand, IP protection, and on the other, the right to privacy, data protection, freedom of expression, and due process."

He added that the key is not to criminally prosecute individuals sharing files for personal and not-for-profit purposes, but to go after those "making money quickly and easily from online copyright infringement". 

The letter can be viewed in full here (pdf)

Digital Economy Bill, copyright, copyright infringement, lawyer, campaigners, Open Rights Group, online,

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