The UK government’s plan of extending the maximum jail term for online file sharing to 10 years has received a withering attack from the British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association (BILETA). In its submission to the UK government’s consultation, obtained by TorrentFreak, the authors of its submission call the idea “not acceptable,” “not feasible,” and “not affordable.” They point out that it would require an assessment of compatibility with the right to freedom of expression included in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which would limit the scope for UK government action here.
According to BILETA‘s submission, the proposal is not acceptable because “legitimate means to tackle large-scale commercial online copyright infringement are not only already available, but also currently being used.” The authors also question whether the proposed increase in custodial sentence to 10 years is proportionate. They point out that in 2005, an EU copyright enforcement directive that would have increased the sentence from two years to four years was dropped by the European Commission because of the public outcry. That suggests moving to 10 years would be seen as even more unreasonable.
In terms of affordability, the submission makes the important point that the UK prison system currently holds over 84,000 people, even though it was originally designed for 50,000. “The system has been overcrowded every year since 1994. Whilst the capacity has been increased, there is a continuing rise in the number of people being held in prison which continues to outstrip the number of places available.” Increasing the custodial sentences for criminal copyright infringement would only add to the strain on the system, and to the financial impact of the law: the average cost of a prison place is over £36,000 per year according to BILETA.
Another serious concern is how well the law can be applied in practice: “In addition to difficulties relating to jurisdiction there are practical issues when seeking to identify those who run and own large website or services which facilitate copyright infringement on a criminal scale.”