The very first conviction for illegal file-sharing in Scotland has been made. An investigation which was launched by the British Recorded Music Industry and International Federation for the Phonographic Industry and later advanced by Strathclyde Police has ended with the prosecution of a 58 year-old nurse and grandmother named Anne Muir from Ayr.
Legal investigations concluded that Mrs Muir was in possession of unlicensed copyrighted music files which amounted to a value of approximately £54,000 this included 7490 digital music files and 24,240 karaoke songs. Having admitted to distributing these files, the conviction was made under section 107(e) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
As UK law currently stands, an individual shall be criminally liable 'for making or dealing with infringing articles' by virtue of section 107 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. In practice however, the enforcement of copyright is primarily a civil right which is enforced on an individual level. As such, little use tends to be made of these criminal sanctions.
Ayr Sherriff Court will determine the appropriate sentence on May 31st. It looks likely that by virtue of section 170(4) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the possible outcome shall be a hefty criminal fine but could also result in imprisonment.
Digital piracy is an area of the law which is becoming increasingly topical and this landmark conviction in Scotland is an important development, especially for copyright owners. This case provides a legal precedent encouraging copyright owners to report infringements more readily to the police, which traditionally they may have tried to pursue themselves through a civil action. This may act as a stronger deterrent to would-be infringers. The decision has also sparked much debate from digital advocacy groups.Indeed, the Open Rights Group, commented on the case as being "a waste of resources, arbitrary and disproportionate".
Regardless of whether you are in favour of vigorously protecting copyright owners or wider access and distribution of copyright works, the decision brings to the forefront the effect illegal downloading has on our digital society and a lack of recognition of value in copyright works issues which have a significant effect on the music industry and which, copyright owners, are clearly unwilling to endure for much longer.
Separately from this case, David Cameron recently recognised generally that our copyright laws are not appropriate for the digital society in which we now live and reform is needed. The issue is currently being explored in the government led Hargreaves Review of IP and Growth which is set to be published in the coming months.
© Thorntons Law LLP
12 May 2011
Loretta Maxfield and Lisa Mannion