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The British government has introduced the Digital Economy Bill, which would increase the maximum penalty for online copyright infringement to ten years in prison. The government has been considering this change for some time, and has argued that the current maximum penalty of two years is insufficient to deter pirates from committing acts of infringement. Before introducing the bill, the government held a public consultation to get feedback from British citizens, businesses and organizations. Over a thousand responses were sent in, with 98% opposing an increase in the maximum penalty to ten years.

Despite the seeming unpopularity of the change, the British government has decided to push it through anyway. The government has argued that it is necessary to deal with large-scale offenders and the maximum penalty would only be applied in rare cases. Another reason for increasing the penalty is to bring it in line with counterfeiting, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years. Opponents of piracy claim there is no difference between counterfeiting and digital copyright infringement.

The Digital Economy Bill is a 151 page behemoth, which contains numerous changes, in addition to the increased penalty for piracy. Many of the changes grant more authority to the communications regulator, Ofcom. The bill would give homes and businesses the right to demand a minimum download speed from service providers. What that minimum speed will be, however, is not written into the law. It will be up to Ofcom to regulate that matter. The government’s explanation for not setting the speed by law is that, “Regulations can be updated in a much shorter timescale than a new bill, which can take a year before it can be brought into force.”

The bill would also give Ofcom the power to fine mobile service providers who fail to meet the coverage requirements that they agreed to, in order to obtain their spectrum license. Currently, Ofcom’s only options to deal with providers who don’t meet their obligations is to revoke the license or launch criminal charges. The regulator believes this bill would give it more flexibility to deal with companies that breach their license agreement. The bill also gives Ofcom oversight over the BBC.

Another provision in the bill would create a new age verification regulatory body. The regulator will create guidelines governing how porn sites verify that their users are 18 or older. The body will be able to fine porn sites up to £250,000 for non-compliance, or about $320,000. The regulator will also be able to deal with credit card companies and other payment providers to cut off funds if a site refuses to comply.

Should the maximum sentence for piracy be raised to 10 years? Do you agree with Ofcom’s new regulatory powers? Is a age verification regulator a good idea? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • Scruffy, the Janitor

    One step forward with Brexit, two steps back with this. Come on UK.

  • Cytos Lpagtr

    downloading infinitely copyable data is now has the same maximum punishment as:

    possessing a firearm with intent to terrorize
    selling weapons on the black market
    causing a riot
    trying to poison someone
    being cruel to 16 year olds or less
    owning a (shot)gun without a license
    indecent assault on a (wo)man
    having sex while a child is present
    forcing a child to watch a sexual act
    meeting with sexually groomed children
    spiking someones drink with intent to rape/kill
    breaking in with attempt to rape
    breaking in with intent of destruction of property
    pretending to be an official
    indecency with children under 14
    making and/or owning child pornography
    assaulting someone to later commit burgelry
    sexual assault
    etc etc

    how just is this. it is possible to commit a crime just as punishable like the ones listed here, while sitting in front of a computer for +-5 minutes (depending on your down/up).


  • Riosine

    -extending piracy prison time despite acknowledging that law is useless; will be rarely applied if ever. And will just make pirates *5 times sneakier than what they are now.

    -Regulating a minimum, unknown, “internet speed”, and by that you mean bit/rate transfer speed, right? or are you as delusional to legislate on the minimun speed light should travel across the of a optic fiber. C’mon its a law you’ve to be specific what you’re writting!

    -Oh and the icing of the iceberg an age control that is hard to implement and likewise easier to circumvent just by browsing other countries porn sites

    Ok politics I know you’re butthurt after the brexit demonstrated your existance might as well not matter at all.
    But do you really think that proving, by nth time, that you’ve no idea what you’re doing will make your sorry situation better?

  • Kev Lew

    agre regulation i can understand, giving ofcom more control over user bandwidth access likewise.
    equating piracy with counterfeiting not so much. one is theft due to poor service/laziness/lack of money/restriction-evasion, the other is recreation and claiming that a fake item is genuine and worth the full retail price despite fraudulent origins.

  • Dindu Nuffin

    This is to prevent the bullshit we had to go through with ISPs promising “Up to 100mb speeds!” only to regularly deliver about 15-20mb. If it says “Up to” then it doesn’t mean anything from one upwards. That’s misleading. Loophole closed.

    As for piracy? Netflix is cheap, games drop in price amazingly fast and music? Stream it.

    It’s only the impatient that pay through the nose.