Online or offline, intellectual property theft is a crime. With advances in technology and the popularity of the internet, more and more criminals are turning to online criminality and so it is imperative that our prosecution system reflects our moves to a more digital world.”

–  Detective Chief Inspector Peter Ratcliffe, Head of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit

The Intellectual Property Office (“IPO“) has launched a consultation process seeking views on equalising the custodial penalty for online and physical copyright infringement.  This would result in an increased potential custodial sentence for online copyright infringement and is targeted primarily at commercial-scale offenders.

By way of example, as the law stands, online copyright infringement effected by communicating a work to the public in the course of business (under s107(2A) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (“CDPA 1988“)), results in a maximum 2 year custodial sentence.  By contrast, the maximum sentence for the equivalent offence of copyright infringement relating to physical goods is 10 years imprisonment.

The rally for change has been in the pipeline for some time.  Back in 2005, the Gowers Review supported harmonisation and increasing the custodial sentence for online copyright infringement but as yet only the maximum statutory fine has been increased.  However, in March this year the UK Government published a “Penalty Fair?” report which concluded that  online copyright offences have the capability to cause serious harm and suggested that a raised maximum sentence would act as a deterrent for offenders seeking to monetise their online activities.  The IPO’s consultation seems to build on this rationale and requests responses by 17 August 2015.