Stock picture of an illegal downloading pirate
The UK government wants to increase online piracy jail sentences to 10 years, which would make the offence as serious as rape, rioting, child cruelty and some firearms offences iStock

The UK government is planning to push for much stricter punishments for people found guilty of committing online copyright infringement, increasing the current maximum jail sentence of two years to a new maximum term of 10 years instead.

The new proposed prison sentences are part of a list of conclusions the UK government has published following a study and consultation into punishments for online copyright infringement offences. The re-drafted offence provisions will now be put before UK parliament at the earliest opportunity.

The UK government writes in the "Criminal Sanctions for Online Copyright Infringement" government consultation response: "The Government believes that a maximum sentence of 10 years allows the courts to apply an appropriate sentence to reflect the scale of the offending. An example where copyright infringement was deemed to warrant longer than a two-year sentence is where five defendants received sentences totalling 17 years for releasing more than 2,500 of the latest films onto the internet.

"They were prosecuted under the Fraud Act, where the highest sentence was four and a half years. Capping the maximum available sentence at a lower level would unnecessarily limit the ability of the courts to apply appropriate sentences in the more serious cases of copyright infringement."

When the Digital Economy Act 2010 came into action, it increased financial penalties for copyright infringement to a maximum of £50,000 ($71,670), but jail sentences continue to be determined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA 1988). Although "offline" copyright offences carry sentences of up to 10 years, "online" infringement offences only carry a maximum term of two years.

Fears that online piracy not seen as a serious crime

In March 2015, a study commissioned by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) concluded that copyright holders and some law makers feel that such a short jail term sends out the message that online infringement isn't a serious offence, and that the term should be boosted to 10 years, which would make the offence as serious as rape, rioting, child cruelty and some firearms offences.

Then in July 2015, the UK government launched a consultation to gauge public opinion to the suggestion of making online piracy sentences more severe, but even though 98% of all 1,011 respondents opposed an increase in jail sentences, the government is still going ahead with the changes anyway.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Intellectual Property wrote in the consultation response: "The number of global internet users has increased threefold in the past 10 years to 3bn and the number of UK citizens now online stands at over 90%. Every day we are seeing the new opportunities this has created for criminals with wide scale infringement of the valued rights of those who create content. Creative industries add £84.1bn to the UK economy each year, and to ensure we can protect this investment, there must be effective and appropriately targeted laws.

"The UK is frequently cited as the world leader in IP enforcement, and as Minister for IP I want to do everything I can to preserve this standing. The provision of a maximum 10-year sentence is designed to send a clear message to criminals that exploiting the intellectual property of others online without their permission not acceptable."