Following a consultation into the effects of and punishment for online copyright offences, the Government has proposed new legislation which would see Britons found guilty of web piracy facing a prison sentence up to a maximum of ten years.

The calls for reform come after criticisms that current judicial punishments for digital copyright infringement do not line up with sentences for comparative offences, potentially helping the social shift to online piracy being seen as more acceptable than physical theft.

Writing in an official document published late last week, Intellectual Property Minister, Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, said: “Last year the Government consulted on increasing the maximum term to ten years.

“We received over a thousand responses, which have played a significant part in helping to shape the discussion.

“As a result we are now proposing changes that include increasing the maximum sentence, but at the same time addressing concerns about the scope of the offence.

“The current disparity has existed for many years and, just as the range of legitimate content services online has grown, so too has there been an increase in infringement of content online”

However, the Minister urged the public that ‘insignificant infringement’ of copyrighted web material would not be punishable under the new legislation – particularly in cases where web users were ‘completely unaware’ of their minor offences.

This includes “low level infringement that has a minimal effect or causes minimum harm to copyright owners, in particular where the individuals involved are unaware of the impact of their behaviour,” she said.

The proposed change is meant to ensure adequate punishment for those who profit from the streaming of pirated material, targeting those who engage on such activity on a large scale and in doing so cause significant damage to authorised distributors.

The release of the document follows drastic action taken by the Government to prevent online copyright infringement last year, when the British High Court ordered for 85 ‘unlawful’ websites to be blocked on grounds of infringement.