Among the provisions of the new UK Digital Economy Act is an extension of the maximum prison term for anyone for infringing copyright with a view to profit from it, to 10 years from the two years set by the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.
The new Act redefines the offence. An offender is now someone who “infringes copyright in a work by communicating the work to the public” if he or she either “intends to make a gain” for himself or someone else, or “knows or has reason to believe that communicating the work to the public will cause loss to the owner of the copyright, or will expose the owner of the copyright to a risk of loss”.
The new wording – designed to meet the realities of copyright abuse in the age of digital streaming – substitutes for the previous, somewhat outdated definition of someone who “makes an article specifically designed or adapted for making copies of a particular copyright work”, as defined under the 1988 Act.
There is no change clearly specified for the lesser offence of possessing an illegal copy, which under the 1988 Act carries a maximum penalty of three months in prison or a fine.
Separately, the Digital Economy Act gives the secretary of state for culture, media and sport the power to impose new accessibility rules on video-on-demand service providers, such as requiring programmes to be subtitled or requiring them to accompanied by audio-description or translated into sign-language.
Any move to impose new rules on accessibility will only be made after the appropriate regulator has consulted with on-demand service providers and disability group representatives, and changes will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. It is likely that Ofcom will be tasked with drawing up guidelines for VOD service providers to ensure that they comply with the new rules.
Current rules require subtitles on linear TV channels but not on-demand services. While some catch-up and on-demand services do carry subtitles, not all do. The new rules could have an impact on a much wider variety of VOD service providers.
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