UK: Maximum Prison Sentences Equal or Less Than File-Sharing

With the passage of the Digital Economy bill, we decided to take a spin through the legal books to see what offences carry prison sentences equal or less than file-sharing.

We recently covered the passage of the Digital Economy Bill. one of the hugely controversial provisions is that it could throw alleged copyright infringers into prison for a maximum of 10 years.

The reaction to the idea of locking up someone for file-sharing for so long for a lot of people seems to be that the punishment is quite extreme. Of course, a single number alone doesn’t always show the whole picture. Comparing the crime to other crimes with similar consequences can really put things into perspective. So, the question is, what other UK laws are in the books that carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or less?

Before we go any further, we want to make one thing very clear: this does not constitute legal advice. If you do need legal advice in Britain, please consult someone who is formally trained in this area. This article is merely an exploration of British law.

So, where did we turn to to figure out what the maximum sentences are for various crimes? In this case, we looked up the website The Law Pages. The website cites specific laws and can be referenced. Here’s what we found from that website:

Laws That Carry a Maximum Prison Sentence of 10 Years

The following sample of laws carry a prison sentence equal to that of copyright infringement through file-sharing (by no means is this comprehensive):

– Possession of firearm with intent to cause fear of violence (Firearms Act 1968 s.16A)
– Possessing or distributing prohibited weapon or ammunition (5 year minimum sentence) (Firearms Act 1968)
– Riot (Public Order Act 1986 s.1)
– Making threats to kill (Offences against the Person Act 1861 s.16)
– Administering poison etc. so as to endanger life (Offences against the Person Act 1861 s.23)
– Cruelty to persons under 16 (Children and Young Persons Act 1933 s.1)
– Indecent assault on a woman (Sexual Offences Act 1956 s.14)
– Indecent assault on a man (Sexual Offences Act 1956 s.15)
– Meeting child following sexual grooming (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s. 15)
– Committing offence with intent to commit sexual offence (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s. 62)
– Creulty to children (s1 Children & Young Persons Act 1933)
– Burglary with intent to commit rape (non-dwelling) (Theft Act 1968 s9)
– Burglary (non-domestic) (Theft Act 1968 s.9(3)(b))
– Fraud by false representation (Fraud Act 2006 s.2)
– Indecency with children under 14 (Indecency with Children Act 1960 s.1(1))
– Taking, having etc. indecent photographs of children (Protection of Children Act 1978 s.1)
– Sexual assault (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s. 3)
– Causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s. 4)
– Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a person with a mental disorder impeding choice (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s. 32)
– Causing a person with a mental disorder impeding choice to watch a sexual act (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s. 33)

So, in the eyes of British law, if you decide to threaten to kill someone, poison them, cause a riot, or decide to rape someone, such an offence is equally bad as downloading the latest Justin Bieber album without authorization.

Laws That Carry a Maximum Prison Sentence of Less Than 10 Years

The following laws carry a maximum prison sentence less than that of committing an act of copyright infringement online. Again, but no means is this comprehensive, it’s just a sample):

– Trespassing with firearm or imitation firearm in a building (Firearms Act 1968) 7 years
– Carrying firearm or imitation firearm in public place (Firearms Act 1968) 7 years
– Shortening a shot gun; conversion of firearm (Firearms Act 1968) 7 years
– Violent disorder (Public Order Act 1986 s.2) 5 years
– Racially-aggravated assault – ABH or GBH (Crime and Disorder Act 1998 s. 29(1)) 7 years
– Unlawful wounding (Offences against the Person Act 1861 s.20) 5 years
– Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (Offences against the Person Act 1861 s.47) 5 years
– Abandonment of children under two (Offences against the Person Act 1861 s.27) 5 years
– Dealing in firearms (Firearms Act 1968 s.3) 5 years
– Assaults on officers saving wrecks (Offences against the Person Act 1861 s.37) 7 years
– Failure to disclose information about terrorism (Terrorism Act 2000 s.19) 5 years
– Attempted sexual intercourse with girl under 13 (Sexual Offences Act 1956 s.5) 7 years
– Incest by man with a girl under 13 (Sexual Offences Act 1956 s.10) 7 years
– Incest by woman with a girl under 13 (Sexual Offences Act 1956 s.11) 7 years
– Abduction of unmarried girl under 16 from parent (Sexual Offences Act 1956 s.20) 2 years
– Paying for sexual services – penetration of a child aged 16 or 17 (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s. 47) 7 years
– Abuse of trust: sexual activity with a child (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s. 16) 5 years
– Sexual penetration of a corpse (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s. 70) 2 years
– Fraudulent evasion of the prohibition on importing indecent or obcene articles (Customs & Excise Management Act 1979 s.170) 7 years

In other words, if you want to intimidate people with firearms, assault someone, opt to partake in the black market dealing with firearms, attack a police officer, decide to not report on terrorist activities, or attempt to have sex with an underage girl, yes, that is not good. Still, if you decide to commit these acts, at least you didn’t do something completely egregious like downloading Zootopia off of a public BitTorrent website. That, as far as the UK laws are concerned, is a much greater offence.

After compiling these lists, a lot of questions can be raised. There are two different angles one can look at here. On the one side, a question can be raised about whether or not the maximum jail sentence for file-sharing is too extreme. On the other hand, one might ask if the sentences for the other offences not high enough. Obviously, there is not going to be an easy answer in any of this. Still, suggesting that copyright infringement deserves equal or greater sentences than the above sentences is going to be an extremely hard sell.

While it may be a little on the late side to start a discussion on the matter, a conversation about the prison sentences is, at the very least, warranted.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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