Illegal downloading and file sharing is now rife. So far however no one in Britain has been fined and prosecuted for it. That position is unlikely to change because of new legislation that came into force yesterday. The Digital Economy Act 2017 was rushed through Parliament without the usual debating amendments to receive royal assent before Westminster closes down for the general election.
By way of an amendment to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 the maximum penalty for infringing copyright online and making it available is increased from two years to ten years. The ingredients of the offence have also been changed. The offence now requires that a person must either intend to make a monetary gain for himself or another, or know or have reason to believe that his actions will cause loss to the owner of the right or expose the owner to a risk of loss.
Strictly speaking this wording could catch the average student user downloading a torrent of their favourite show. However, targeting individual end users is not the Government’s intention. Instead, the legislation is aimed at pirates who leak and distribute copyright-infringing material for the general public.
So at present there appears to be no plans to criminalise internet users who regularly download from file sharing sites. Rather than enforcement action they are likely to receive educational warning emails from their ISPs who have signed up to the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme.
But they should guard against complacency. The Federation Against Copyright Theft has warned that “While end-users are not our primary target, they may get swept up in one of our operations and become part of the whole criminal investigation, which could lead to prosecution alongside suppliers, retailers and importers.”