The government’s new Digital Economy Bill has changed the rules on online piracy, with 10-year sentences now possible for copyright crimes.
But can you really get a decade in prison simply for using a ‘fully loaded’ Kodi box – a popular device often used to pirate films and TV series?
The new law has brought the sentences for online copyright crimes in line with the sentences faced by, for instance, someone who pirates DVDs on a mass scale.
Thanks to the technologies involved ‘under the bonnet’ in devices such as Kodi boxes, it means ordinary users are technically committing serious crimes.
In practice, it’s likely that only people making a profit from piracy will be arrested and face charges, according to the Government – although there may be occasional exceptions.
Have I committed a crime?
In theory, the bill criminalises even minor copyright infringement, where copyright holders face a loss or a ‘risk of loss’ by something being published online.
That could be anything from sharing a film online to publishing a picture on a blog without paying a licence fee.
Jim Killock of Open Rights Group says, ‘If you infringe copyright normally, you shouldn’t expect to face a jail sentence.
‘The thing that’s happening here is that if you publish online – or ‘make something available’ – you have a possibility of a prison sentence, if the copyright owner can show that there has been a loss. That’s incredibly wide.’
Is it a crime just to watch something?
Many of the technologies used to share content online involve users uploading data as well as downloading – which means, technically, that users may be ‘making content available’ by just watching.
Jim Killock of Open Rights Group says, ‘If you are file-sharing you may well be committing a criminal offence. On Kodi boxes, for instance, many of the plug-ins used to pirate content are uploading data – so technically, you are making illegal content available.’
Can you get a 10-year sentence for watching films?
In practice, ordinary users are not actually likely to be prosecuted at all, although you have still technically committed a crime, the government says.
You will not get a 10-year sentence for merely watching, to get such a long sentence you would have to be actively involved in large-scale piracy.
The Intellectual Property Office said in a letter to Open Rights Group, ‘It is important to note that the criminal offences apply to making material available to others, not to those just downloading material to their computers.
‘Anyone seeking to enforce their rights for the downloading of material would be unlikely to refer to this legislation.
‘Ten year sentences would only be applied in the most serious of criminal circumstances.’
Could I ever be arrested just for watching?
Most of the time, people who are just watching TV and films won’t be targeted – but there is a chance you could be ‘swept up’ in a bigger case, according to FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft).
Kieron Sharp of FACT says, ‘At some point, someone who is illegally streaming is going to get caught. Although it’s not our wish to go after the end user.
‘Whilst 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 the suppliers, retailers and importers.’
How can I tell if I am watching illegal content?
There’s a huge amount of pirated material online – not just via Kodi boxes and torrent sites, but also on sites such as YouTube.
If you want to be sure you’re not watching copyrighted material, you should go direct to companies such as BT Sport, Sky or Virgin, according to FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft). .
Sites such as The Guide /offer in-depth guides to finding legal content online.
You can also find more details at Get It Right From A Genuine Site.
Who is it that will be targeted?
Most people who pirate – or have pirated – material online probably don’t need to worry about the Bill.
But what it means is that there are extremely long sentences available for people judged to be committing serious piracy offences.
People who run torrent sites, for instance, or are making large amounts of money from pirating videos, may well face long prison sentences.
Jim Killock of Open Rights Group says, ‘The government’s excuse on this is that practically no one is going to be prosecuted.
‘They want to be able to catch people who are making serious money, or for instance are running a torrent site