Digital Economy Bill: 10 Years in Jail for Piracy

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

July 7, 2016

The UK government has this week introduced the Digital Economy Bill into parliament. If passed, the bill will increase the current two-year prison term for piracy to a whopping ten-year sentence. The legislation, which was first suggested last year, aims to bring copyright laws into line with other crimes such as counterfeiting.

The new legislation, which has been opposed by the public, is the result of a study conducted by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) last year. That study revealed that the current two-year sentence does not deter UK citizens enough from committing online copyright infringement.

Following the investigation, the government launched a public appeal for comments and advice; for which the resounding response was that the jail time should not be increased. Sadly, those requests have been completely ignored by policymakers – who have moved the law into the House of Commons – where it yesterday received its first reading without appeal for amendment.

The draft of the new Digital Economy Bill is available for scrutiny online here for anyone that wants to see how it will affect UK citizens when it is passed in the coming months.

Below is an excerpt from the bill that demonstrates the tougher sentences that UK courts will be able to hand out. Also revealing that it straightforwardly amends the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act of 1988 by simply replacing the number of years available for sentencing from two to ten in section (3),

Digital Economy BillThe changes are likely due to years of lobbying from copyright holders such as the Hollywood movie studios and ‘big five’ music labels, who feel hard done by at the hands of copyright infringers, despite plenty of evidence that piracy increases their revenue, reach and appeal.

Sadly, the UK government agrees that stronger laws are needed to put people off from large scale copyright infringement, although the government admits that the maximum sentence would only be doled out under more extreme circumstances,

‘The Government believes that a maximum sentence of 10 years allows the courts to apply an appropriate sentence to reflect the scale of the offending.’

With that in mind, it seems highly unlikely that ordinary computer users caught pirating one or two movies would, or file sharing small amounts of content would wind up in jail for the whole of the available, massive, decade-long sentence.  Instead, those ten-year sentences would likely be saved for criminals involved in the distribution of pirated movies with the intention of making a profit, and services that systematically offer P2P filesharing services in an organized manner.

On the plus side, the Digital Economy Bill also states that by spring of 2017 all ISPs will have to abide by a universal service obligation (USO). That means all UK residents will receive minimum broadband Internet connection speeds of 10Mbps – quite the improvement – for some UK households that suffer from laggy connection speeds in their local area.

In fact, overall it is thought that a total of 2.4 million homes and businesses suffer from connection speeds under that 10Mbps threshold. Under the new legislation, anybody suffering from slow connection speeds would be allowed to demand the improvement to their service at once. It being the government’s belief that this will improve the UK’s digital economy.

Digital economy minister, Ed Vaizey, made the following comment,

‘We want the UK to be a place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government. The UK has always been at the forefront of technological change, and the measures in the Digital Economy Bill provide the necessary framework to make sure we remain world leaders.’

Other positive aspects of the bill include allowing UK Internet users to more easily switch their suppliers, should they want to. Plus stipulations to protect consumers online and stronger penalties for spammers.

snoopers charterDigital Economy Bill – Reason for a VPN

With more substantial penalties for piracy likely to soon be passed; and the invasive snoopers’ charter in the process of being passed through the House of Lords at the moment. Anybody with a penchant for watching pirated content online is strongly advised to consider a VPN.

Reliable VPNs encrypt all data between your IP address and your Internet Service Provider (ISP). That means that even when the snoopers’ charter (draft communications data bill) is passed, your ISP will be unable to actually store your data for the government: Because it is strongly encrypted using OpenVPN.

For this reason, anyone in the UK (or anywhere else in the world) that cares strongly about digital privacy is very firmly recommended to subscribe to a VPN provider!


Ray Walsh

I am a freelance journalist and blogger from England. I am highly interested in politics and in particular the subject of IR. I am an advocate for freedom of speech, equality, and personal privacy. On a more personal level I like to stay active, love snowboarding, swimming and cycling, enjoy seafood, and love to listen to trap music.

7 responses to “Digital Economy Bill: 10 Years in Jail for Piracy

  1. We’ve been here before, in medieval times to be precise, weaving patterns where protected by a royal charter, effectively o form of copyright, so only noblemen could wear them. The penalty for copying these fabrics was breaking on the wheel, where your limbs where broken, threadded through a cartwheel and you where left for the crows.

    That level of punishment did nothing to stop copyright infringement then. Throwing normal people in prison for ten years will do nothing to stop it now. Making media readilly and cheaply would.

    1. gutemberg, wikileaks succeeded it. piracy is an obsolete idea like punishment. it is prohibited because it is became ‘trash’, uninteresting, commercial, under control & survey from abroad not because there are ‘infringement’. piracy is now a spam threat more than a terrorist trace.
      *noblemen = wrong (very old behavior from outlaws-underground).
      *media = wrong (media support the Digital Economy Bill).

  2. May I congratulate the Home Secretary, Theresa May (soon to be Prime Minister) on her perceptiveness to the wishes of the British people. Infringement of the outrageous, bought (sorry, I mean ‘lobbied’) copyright laws can now be treated rather more harshly than ‘accidentally’ causing the death of (i.e. murdering) your spouse. While a penalty for murdering your spouse which is small compared to that for the heinous crime of possibly depriving the entertainment industry of some of their obscene profits might might seem desirable to many, few would consider it to be even close to justice.

  3. Should the VPN be on at all times or just when you visit websites or download things that you don’t want your isp to know about?

    And what about accessing accounts linked to your real identity while using the VPN? Would doing that make any future use of the VPN pointless as they know you use it now?

    1. Hi Kevin,

      This all depends on your threat model and level of paranoia. Personally, I use a VPN at all times because I hate the idea of blanket government surveillance, even when I am doing nothing that I do not want my ISP to know about. When using a VPN to link to your Facebook accounts etc., remember that almost all VPN services use shared IP addresses, so that the IP you use will also be associated with dozens or even hundreds of other the VPN users… If this still worries you, then a common tactic is to run a VPN inside a Virtual Machine – you can then access most websites protected by a VPN, but can use the browser in your regular OS to connect to websites linked to your real identity. This will help prevent your VPN IP from being associated with your real identity by those websites.

      1. I use PIA and just generally don’t like government surveillance. So based off what your saying if someone were to check an account that I use that I logged into while on my VPN, they’d see an IP that also logged into possibly thousands of other things that have nothing to do with me and thus making it kind of okay to use accounts linked to my real identity while on the VPN?

        I feel like that would tell my ISP or any government agency that I am indeed using a VPN but as that isn’t illegal that’s not a problem I assume?

        1. Hi Kevin,

          That is more or less it in a nutshell. There is nothing illegal about using a VPN, and more of us who use it for everyday surfing the less suspicious it looks (not that it looks very suspicious anyway)! Shared IPs are usually shared by tens of people – a couple of hundred at most (not thousands!).

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