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New UK Law Criminalizes Copyright Violation

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the hi-guys-enjoy-the-handbasket dept.

The Internet 31

pdh11 writes "The Register today details the introduction of a new UK law that makes 'communication to the public' of copyright material a criminal, not civil, offence; this means that, whether done deliberately or not, allowing a copyright infringer to copy something from your machine becomes illegal. Even if you morally equate copyright infringement with theft, this is like prosecuting me as an accessory to theft because I left my front door unlocked. How has this, or the EU directive it implements, become law without even debate, let alone outcry?"

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This is cool..... (1)

lynx_user_abroad (323975) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590507)

There's a business across the street from mine with a bunch of (copyrighted) movie posters clearly visible through their front window, making it possible for any bloke with a camera to walk up and snap an infringing photo.

I'm going to be calling my local MP to have him shut down and locked up, just as soon as I finish taking down my own movie posters.

Re:This is cool..... (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 11 years ago | (#5598552)

There is a big difference. A business that puts up a poster will have received it from the copyright holder or their agent, as promotional materials, and any court in the land would agree that there is an expected right to display promotional material. You might actually be in trouble already if you just buy a movie poster at Forbidden Planet, and stick it up in your front window, as you have no reasonable expectation of permission to display to the public.

In any case, setting up a computer that will transmit copyrighted data is very different, as the dissemination is active. With the poster, you are merely allowing photons to reflect off the surface, which is a natural part of what photons do. If I capture those photons in a camera, it's me that's the only active party. If I initiate a download from your Kazaa share, then we are both active parties, as you set up the share in the first place.

There's the added point that a digital copy is perfect, whereas my 35mm snap of Sarah Michelle Gellar is very much inferior to the 5'3" cardboard cutout.

RTFA, please (3, Informative)

Hanji (626246) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590517)

Read the bloody article. It states that someone
commits and offence if he knew or had reason to believe that copyright in the work would be infringed
That's very different from saying that "Letting someone take copyrighted material accidentally is not a crime," as the poster seems to believe.

Re:RTFA, please (1)

Hanji (626246) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590593)

d'oh! s/and/an/ s/not/now/ I really should preview...

Re:RTFA, please (2, Interesting)

lynx_user_abroad (323975) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590737)

Read the bloody article.

I read the aticle, but perhaps my point was a bit too subtle.

I've never (in EU or America) seen a really workable definition for drawing a line between 'usage' and 'copyright infringment'. The publishing interests seem to want to reserve the power to declare any particular usage as illegal just as soon as they identify a model which (they believe) is costing them money. So, if I take a photo of my SO standing next to some costumed Episode I character, that's okay. But as soon as the studio thinks they could have charged me a half quid for the photo, it becomes an illegal activity (even if, had they offered the photo for half a quid, there would have been no takers.)

This law seems to do nothing more (or less) than raise the stakes, does nothing to change behavior or offer guidance or clarify acceptable behavior.

Sure, it's aimed at stopping the warez sites today, just like DMCA is aimed at stopping people from pirating DVD's. But that didn't stop Lexmark from using the law to kill the low-cost replacement toner competition, and I suspect it won't be long before we see some industry defining their competition's behavior as infringment and criminalizing them out of business.

weasel words (1)

renehollan (138013) | more than 11 years ago | (#5592260)

...are the bane of law everywhere, for they are the grease that makes the slope slippery.

...or had reason to believe...

WHO had reason to believe? You? The "Man"? The police? The Judge? I ask again, "Who?".

Generally, the courts (yeah, yeah, IANALBIPOOSD (... but I play one on Slashdot)), interpret this as "what a resonable person would believe", but still, this leaves the uncertainty of what the courts consider "reasonable".

For example, I would think it reasonable that, if I left my computer wide open, for read access, and had interesting stuff on it, eventually someone would find it, and point others to the digital bounty. At best, this would be "copyright negligence" on my part. Though, I still think the courts might be more lenient if I were "Jane housewife using her new PC" instead of "Joe hacker, professional coder, with a data networking and security background."

Still, even leaving it to the courts, relying on an interpretation of "reason to believe" does not give me a warm feeling inside. I'd prefer the burden to proof that I knew of likely third party infringement, or my own carelessness to fall on the prosecution, not that I should think like some arbitrarily "reasonable" person.

After all, in a different context, "reasonable" Americans support the current war, if they know what's good for them. To speak out against it would, of course be "unreasonable". Regardless of one's position in this matter, protection for such "unreasonable" political opposition is paramount in a free society. Similary, protection for "unreasonable" thoughts should also exist, lest "reasonable" become a synonym for "politically acceptable".

Re:weasel words (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 11 years ago | (#5598634)

...or had reason to believe...

WHO had reason to believe?
That would be 'he', as in:
commits and offence if he knew or had reason to believe that copyright in the work would be infringed
Read the post you replied to, please. You aren't going to win any arguements with a straw man like that.

Re:weasel words (1)

renehollan (138013) | more than 11 years ago | (#5599557)

Again, who determines if an individual had "reason to believe" anything? The court obviously. But, how can it?

How can the court know what a person thinks, or reasons? The court can certainly know what someone (presuming sound mind) knows by evidence of their acts: if evidences place me in location A at time B, then surely I knew this when I was at location A, and can't refute that I was there at time B, without contradictory evidence ("the witness' watch was wrong").

But, I know of no way to look inside someone's thoughts to determine what they reason.

In fact, this has been used sucessfully in defending against "hate crime" accusations. You know, the kind of crime where the punishment for (say) theft is much worse because the thief was white and the victim black and therefore the thief "hated" the victim by virtue of her race -- how does the prosecution "prove" hatred, or any emotion without confession?

Similarly, how does the court find how someone reasons if they do not confess their understanding of how they come to a conclusion?

And don't get me started on what constitutes "reasonable" in different parts of the world.

Re:weasel words (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 11 years ago | (#5605875)

So tell me then, what would you prefer, some kind of mathematical formula? Maybe a computer program that determines whether you're guilty? The entire legal system hangs on terms like these. If you're up in court for just about anything, they have to decide whether or not you did it 'beyond reasonable doubt'. What's 'reasonable doubt'? Well, it's up to the jury, or the judge if you were bullied into foregoing a jury trial. It's a bit late to start challenging the fundamental basis of western justice, on the basis that it relies on reasoning.

Re:weasel words (1)

renehollan (138013) | more than 11 years ago | (#5607166)

Your confusing the judge/jury being reasonable, as in determining "beyond a reasonable doubt", and determining if the accused was reasoning.

The accused should be judged based on her actions, not on her reasoning.

In the case of aiding copyright infringement by leaving a computer system wide open, "I didn't know" should be sufficient defense unless evidence is presented that you acted as if you did, i.e. lock down some parts of the system, but not all, with deliberate, and thoughful actions (as opposed to blindly clicking on an install script). The counter "Well, you should have. A reasonable person would" doesn't wash with me.

Now, "not knowing" might result in a court finding you incompetent (as in "I didn't know guns are dangerous and need to be locked away") but should not result in you being found criminally guilty. And yes, this touches on the whole "ignorance is no excuse" issue.

check your facts at the door! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5590523)

The article says the person needs "reason to believe that this would infringe copyright." This is probably not a case of an accidental SMB share or something.

How? (2, Insightful)

GypC (7592) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590549)

How has this, or the EU directive it implements, become law without even debate, let alone outcry?

Two words: Greased Palms

How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5590569)

One word: Corruption.

Re:How? (2, Insightful)

jantheman (113125) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590634)

& probably another one of those "get it through the door whilst everyone's watching the pretty fireworks in the Gulf".

bye bye .binaries... (1)

jantheman (113125) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590561)

...hosted in the UK then.

(ok, let's say most .binaries groups, shall we?)

This is just stupid! (1)

ddstreet (49825) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590578)

Laws and rules like this are stupid.

I had something just like this happen to me in college; I was working on a programming assignment, which we had to turn in a hardcopy of the source code for, and I printed out and then threw away a first-draft copy. I was in a computer lab, and the paper recycling bin is right beside the printer. Apparently someone else in my class saw my discarded paper and copied it. When we got the assignments back, the teacher talked to both of us individually, and while the teacher agreed that I hadn't actually given the answers to the other student, I was still guilty of cheating somehow. If I didn't admit to cheating and go to some stupid cheater's rehab class, I would have to face the academic board, which had the power to expel me. The stupidity involved is unbelievable!

Did you read the article? (2, Interesting)

pwagland (472537) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590579)

The only quote that comes close to asserting what the punchline claims is this:
The new law, precipitated by the EU's Information Society Directive, makes it an offence to "communicate to the public" copyright works, such as software, if the person knew or had reason to believe that this would infringe copyright.
Nowhere do I see where it says that if your machine is hacked and someone steals office from your machine that you are liable. Everything in the article clearly states that this only applies to people who allow people to download copyright material.

Re:Did you read the article? (1)

trezor (555230) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590932)

You mean... Like most people think about the fact that they allow people to download their 100% shared C:-drive when they start the newest P2P-fabware?

This is bad and only bad. It further deprives us rights and stamps us as criminals before anything has even been done.

In the UK anyway. Thank god Im in... Oh, too late, nevermind...

How it happened (3, Informative)

amcguinn (549297) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590796)

I don't think most people are conscious of the distinction between civil and criminal law. Among those that are, I suspect many thought that copyright infringement was criminal already.

The classic example of the confusion between civil and criminal law was always the many signs on buildings which said "Trespassers will be prosecuted" -- despite the fact there was no criminal offense of trespass.

(There is now a criminal offense of "Aggravated Trespass", but that doesn't apply often and it is a recent Michael-Howard era law anyway.)

Ring Ring Ring... (3, Funny)

zulux (112259) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590910)


Howdy. This is America calling, we'd like Ashcroft back.

Re:Ring Ring Ring... (1)

Drakon (414580) | more than 11 years ago | (#5591824)

no no,
Howdy, this is america coming. We'd like you to be aware that releasing the rabid beast "Ashcroft" is a criminal terrorist offense, punishible as high treason by the war tribunal ...

The UK will need a big prison. (1)

the_other_one (178565) | more than 11 years ago | (#5590948)

Perhaps they can just wall off Scotland

Re:The UK will need a big prison. (1)

will_die (586523) | more than 11 years ago | (#5597104)

Been tried [] unfortunatly it just didn't work.

One effect (3, Insightful)

amcguinn (549297) | more than 11 years ago | (#5591019)

This might be a problem for emulator sites. The policy of the more reputable ones is to try to get permission to distribute old 8-bit games, but if they can't find the copyright owner, to put the game up until someone complains, then take it down. Under existing law, they are only vulnerable to being sued, and if they comply promptly with requests to remove software, that is not likely to be worthwhile for the copyright owner.

Now they can be prosecuted for distributing some 20 year old spectrum game whose owner they thought was lost in the mists of time...

I'm sure there was a /. story a month or two ago about the BSA or someone sending a cease-and-desist to World of Spectrum for distributing games for which they had been given explicit permission by the copyright owner, but I can't find it.

(I think WoS is actually based in the Netherlands, but it might be here.)

Why, yes, I am a karma whore (1)

parliboy (233658) | more than 11 years ago | (#5591411)

Re:Why, yes, I am a karma whore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5591465)

Aaah, I see, I did a search from, so it only searched, even though I explicitly searched "All Sections" on the search dialog. A slight slashcode bug-ette, perhaps?

Re:One effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5594524)

One there was one about a german university distributing openoffice

Money (1)

Samus (1382) | more than 11 years ago | (#5591291)

I guess its nice to know that along with us Americans the Brits also have the best legislature money can buy.

Hmm.. (1)

EdMack (626543) | more than 11 years ago | (#5591724)

That must have just slipped past whilst we all sit back and watch iraq being blitzed.

Presumably, leaking memos is now criminal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5597087)

'Communication to the public' of copyright material would seem to cover leaks of internal documents.

Whistle-blowers (see Enron) could well be criminalised.

Oh.. wait. That's good for big business.

Ho hum.

Anticircumvention doesn't apply to software! (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 11 years ago | (#5607101)

The Patent Office document cited [] says this:
Article 6
Article 6 as a whole deals with the provision of legal protection for technological measures used by right holders to protect their works against unauthorised reproduction and other copyright infringements. As noted above under Article 1, Article 6 cannot apply to computer programs and Article 7.1(c) of Directive 91/250/ECC continues to have effect. The existing provision in the Act (s.296 as amended by SI 1992 No.3233) is therefore retained in respect of computer programs only (paragraph 5.1 of Annex A). (emphasis added)
That's really interesting. I wonder what it means - I can't find Directive 91/250/ECC anywhere.
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