Mike Weatherley MP has welcome the UK’s Intellectual Property Office’s report into criminal penalties for copyright crimes. Weatherley had highlighted the disparity between penalties for offline and online copyright infringement, with copyright crimes leading to up to ten years custody for physical piracy – but a maximum of two years if the crime takes place online. The IPO has confirmed this and has now suggested that UK copyright law should be amended so that serious online copyright infringement is treated in a similar way to offline activities that those activities result in similar levels of harm to copyright owners. Responding to Weatherley, who had previously been Prime Minister David Cameron’s advisor on IP, IP Minister Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe wrote: “I am writing to update you on the study commissioned by the Intellectual Property Office into criminal sanctions available for online copyright offences. I know that you have taken a keen interest in this matter and that you have pressed for action to be taken to address what you felt was an anomaly in the level of penalties available for online copyright offences” adding “Given the uncertainty surrounding the potential impact brought by the increase to custodial sentences, the Government agreed to commission an independent review of the issue. In assessing the need to amend legislation, researchers have since analysed a range of a conviction data, consulted with a range of stakeholders, and considered the impact of recent interventions in this area” although she then added “The report points towards there being some logic to increasing custodial sentences for serious online copyright offences. However it does emphasise the need for appropriate safeguards to ensure ordinary members of the public, whose copying is not motivated by criminal intent, are not inadvertently caught by any amended provision”.
Welcoming the IPO’s report, Weatherley told reporters: “It is encouraging that evidence shows the need for legislation to change in order to harmonise penalties for physical and online offences. Bringing about this change has required significant pressure on Government, but I am pleased that this report once again entrenches the fact that the UK is leading the way on IP enforcement”.
Weatherley went on to say: “I hope that the Government after the next election will ensure that the recommendations in the report are adopted and that overdue changes in legislation are on the horizon. Additionally, I believe that the introduction of an IP Director General would hugely benefit the UK and be an important figure for international IP collaboration”.