The UK Intellectual Property Office has published its IP Crime and Enforcement report for 2016-2017 (the Report). The Report explains the current challenges and threats posed by intellectual property crime, with input from the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). According to the Report, 15% of all internet users aged 12 and above are reported to have consumed at least one item of illegal content between March and May of 2017 alone, whether they knew about it or not.
Intellectual Property (IP) crime is the unauthorised reproduction of IP or the production of counterfeit goods, such as digital media, luxury fashions, designs, pharmaceuticals and electronic goods, which breaches the law.
IP crime can involve hackers, criminal financial experts, international gangs and service delivery networks. The Report covers a range of crime but it focuses on internet-based infringements, one example being the case of Wayne Evans, who was sentenced to 12 months in prison in December 2016 for uploading music files on websites such as The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents. The CPS has highlighted the Evans case an important one as it provides sentencing guidelines for future offenders under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, whereas before there were none. The Evans case should serve to deter other users from committing IP crimes, although the illegal distribution of content is difficult to investigate because of the amount of monitoring and research required.
Many UK citizens regularly engage with IP infringement without realising it, including the use of Kodi boxes, streaming, Android and set-top boxes. Industry Trust for IP, which is a consumer education body that promotes the value of copyright and creativity, stated that 19% of adults watch content on such devices, suggesting that a large portion of the public do not see the usage of these devices as potentially breaking the law.
The CPS has identified various factors to assist in determining the severity of sentences for IP crime. For example, the length of unlawful activity, profit made and/or the loss caused to copyright holders. It is likely that a jail sentence will be the outcome for future cases of convicted infringers. However, it remains difficult to press charges against offenders because specific prosecution guidance is limited. The Ministry of Justice reported 47 people were guilty of offences under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act during 2016, down from 69 the previous year.
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