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British pirates face decade in jail for online infringement

Law change proposals coincide with government-backed anti-piracy campaign.

By Jimmy Nicholls

British pirates could face 10 years in jail under plans being considered by the Intellectual Property Office to tackle commercial copyright infringement.

The idea has been mooted to bring online piracy in line with those who physically sell pirated DVDs, with penalties for online crooks currently standing at a mere two years.

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, intellectual property minister, said: "The government takes copyright crime extremely seriously – it hurts businesses, consumers and the wider economy both on and offline.

"By toughening penalties for commercial-scale online offending we are offering greater protections to businesses and sending a clear message to deter criminals."

Under the plans those who pirate for profit could spend a decade in jail, though there is no suggestion that those who occasionally infringe copyright for personal use could face similar punishment.

"Online or offline, intellectual property theft is a crime," said Peter Ratcliffe, head of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, a subset of the City of London Police.

"With advances in technology and the popularity of the internet, more and more criminals are turning to online criminality and so it is imperative that our prosecution system reflects our moves to a more digital world."

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The proposed change in the law coincides with the launch of Creative Content UK, a campaign to discourage consumers from illegally downloading content that is backed by industry and the British government.

Speaking to Torrent Freak, a filesharing blog, a spokesperson confirmed that the campaign would begin this summer, having gestated for about a year.

"The education campaign will show consumers how to easily access content – such as music, film, TV, books, games, magazines and sport – from authorised online sources which provide a superior user experience," they said.

British creative industries are worth more than £7bn to the economy, according to government figures, and support more than 1.6 million jobs.

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