It has long been said that the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) which regulates all aspects of intellectual property law in the UK with the exception of trade marks, is not fit for the challenges posed by the digital age. This is because the Act was not drafted or designed to handle infringements such as downloading a movie or CD because, quite frankly, these were not realistic threats to IP rights at the time of drafting (I’m pretty sure if you mentioned the words ‘ipad’, ‘smart phone’, ‘broadband’ or ‘netbook’ to the draftsman they would have returned a very confused look). However, the rapid development of the digital age has made these threats a reality with millions of people downloading illegal material from the comfort of their own living room!
The government responded to the inadequacies of the CDPA by enacting the Communications Act 2003 and the Digital Economy Act 2010. It is the latter of these that has the biggest implications for illegal downloading, permitting copyright owners to monitor and report infringements to internet service providers (ISPs). In the worst case scenario the copyright owners can apply for a court order to make the ISP disclose the actual details of the infringer so the copyright owner can pursue legal action against them! As it stands there is a ‘three strikes in a year’ system in place. ISPs are notified by the snooping copyright owner in the form of a copyright infringement report which contains the IP address of the infringer. The ISP will then send a notification letter to the infringer detailing the alleged copyright infringement. If an infringer ends up with three of these in a 12 month period they face the possibility of the copyright owner applying for an order for the ISP to disclose information on the infringer for use in copyright proceedings. The maximum fine under the Act is a whopping £50,000 with other sanctions including limiting internet access and speed!
This Act clearly has some teeth but it does not appear to be enough for business secretary Vince Cable who has announced further methods to tackle copyright infringement. There is to be a new intellectual property crime unit to be set up by the City of London Police, dedicated to targeting illegal downloading and counterfeit products such as knock-off DVDs. So far we have seen the likes of PirateBay tackled by copyright law but it is now likely we will see more individuals being the subject of copyright proceedings in both the civil and criminal courts. The Government is proposing a national consumer campaign in spring of next year to highlight the concerns about illegal downloading. Despite the fact the material is readily available to all who try to find it (and even those who don’t), people need to be aware that downloading copyright protected material is illegal and real punishments do apply.
Just because it doesn’t appear that anyone is watching does not mean they aren’t and the possibility of being traced for illegal downloading is very real and is not something to be taken lightly. Infringers, I bet the living room isn’t looking so comfortable now…
All information is correct on the date of posting.