The Open Rights Group (ORG) has slammed the Government’s Digital Economy Bill as “threatening ordinary internet users”.
In a blog post, the ORG detailed how ambiguous phrasing in the controversial bill could see widespread abuse of intellectual property law by “copyright trolls”. Specifically, the ORG is bemoaning the part of the bill that would increase the maximum prison sentence for copyright infringement to 10 years.
Part of the problem with the bill is that the wording is very non-specific, as the ORG explains: “The offence criminalises infringements where money hasn’t been paid or there is a “risk of loss” – which means nearly anything published online without permission could attract a jail sentence.”
“It could be filesharing, or reusing a Disney character in a gif,” the post continues.
According to the internet rights group, this particular provision will be a major boon to copyright trolls. That’s the name given to legal firms who send letters to people suspected of unauthorised downloading of copyright works – like watching movies illegally through modified Kodi set-top boxes. These so-called “trolls” often threaten users with court action unless a fee is paid, which the ORG describes as “tantamount to extortion”.
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The suggestion is that if the jail sentence for minor copyright infringement is increased to 10 years, more users could be frightened into paying, even if they haven’t done anything wrong. That’s an important point, because often law firms end up targeting innocent individuals, due to the difficult nature of tracking illegal downloads.
The official government line is that the bill is intended to increase penalties for major copyright infringement, like running websites that allow copyrighted content to be downloaded for free, or providing illegal content through a Kodi box. But the risk is that the maximum sentence could be more widely applied, leading to the possibility of cases where small-time downloaders are made an example of through highly punitive jail terms.
There’s now less than a week until the Government has to put forward amendments to the Digital Economy Bill, which is why the ORG has now launched a campaign to pressure ministers into changing the proposed penalties.
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What do you think the maximum sentence for copyright infringement should be? Let us know in the comments.