Changes to the penalties for online copyright infringement could leave UK citizens vulnerable to blackmail by unscrupulous companies that demand payment for alleged copyright infringements.
Proposals in the Digital Economy Bill would mean that anyone found guilty of online copyright infringement could now get up to ten years in prison. These changes could be misused by companies, such as Goldeneye International, which send threatening
letters about copyright infringement. Typically, the letters accuse the recipients of downloading files illegally and demand that they pay hundreds of pounds or be taken to court.
Often they refer to downloaded pornographic content, to shame the recipients into paying rather than challenging the company in court. The Citizens Advice Bureau has criticised "unscrupulous solicitors and companies acting on behalf of copyright
owners" who take part in such "pay up or else schemes". It advises people who receive such letters to seek legal advice rather than simply paying them.
How do copyright trolls get 'evidence'?
Copyright trolls compel Internet Service Providers to hand over the personal contact details of the account holder whose IP addresses are associated with illegal file downloads. However, this in itself is not evidence that the illicit downloading
observed is the responsibility of the person receiving the letter.
Common problems include:
Sharing wifi with family, friends or neighbours who may be the actual infringer
Errors with timestamps and logs at the ISP@
Why the Digital Economy Bill will make this worse
The Government has argued that it is increasing prison sentences to bring the penalties for online copyright infringement in line with copyright infringement in the real world. It also insists that it is not trying to impose prison sentences for minor
infringements such as file sharing. However, the loose wording of the Bill means that it could be interpreted in this way, and this will undoubtedly be exploited by unscrupulous companies.
Executive Director Jim Killock said:
Unscrupulous companies will seize on these proposals and use them to exploit people into paying huge fines for online infringements that they may not have committed.
The Government needs to tighten up these proposals so that only those guilty of serious commercial copyright infringements receive prison sentences.
Helping companies send threatening letters to teenagers is in no one's interest."
What does the Government need to do?
ORG has asked the Government to amend the Digital Economy Bill to ensure that jail sentences are available for serious online copyright infringement. While this will not put an end to the dubious practices of copyright trolls completely, it will prevent
them from taking advantage of the law.