Following revelations from a leaked ACTA document that participating countries would be expected to bring in a system of monetary fines and jail sentences for those who share files without authorization, the UK has ruled out such a response. The government has announced that it feels such penalties are inappropriate for dealing with petty copyright infringers.

A leaked ACTA document published by citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net revealed the intention to introduce criminal sanctions into the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) for file-sharing offenses.

The ACTA Chapter 2 Criminal Provisions document (.pdf) stated that “each party shall provide for effective proportionate and dissuasive penalties” to include “imprisonment and monetary fines”.

“The ACTA agreement, by its opacity and undemocratic nature, allows criminal sanctions to be simply negotiated,” commented Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net. “The leaked document shows that the EU Member States are willing to impose prison sanctions for non-commercial usages of copyrighted works on the Internet as well as for ‘inciting and aiding’, a notion so broad that it could cover any Internet service or speech questioning copyright policies.”

As noted by Zimmermann, the ACTA text includes proposals to apply criminal sanctions to “infringements that have no direct or indirect motivation of financial gain”. There are suggestions that “financial gain” could simply be obtaining anything without paying.

However, it seems that at least one country is showing a reluctance to go along with suggestions that file-sharers should feel the full weight of a criminal court. The UK Government has now said that it feels that criminal sanctions are an inappropriate way to deal with this type of copyright infringement.

“Acta should not introduce new intellectual property laws or offences. Instead, it should provide a framework to better enforce existing laws,” a UK Intellectual Property Office representative told ComputerActive.

Currently, personal-use file-sharing on a non-commercial scale is almost always considered a civil offense in the UK. However, there have been exceptions. In the case of the OiNK uploaders (who actually uploaded very little indeed), their cases were heard in a criminal court and they ultimately received fines and community service orders. This proves that when powerful enough people get involved, it’s trivial to escalate an offense way above its standing.

That said, it would be ridiculous to have small infringements dealt with by the criminal courts as a matter of course, so hopefully the UK Government stands strong. Jim Killock, Chief Executive at the Open Rights Group said the Government now needs to make its opposition to these proposals both public and clear to the US and EU.

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