The Serious Organised Crime Agency, having (apparently) solved and abolished all human trafficking, major gun crime, and industrial-scale money laundering, had some time on their hands. So, of course, they have started set about policing copyright infringement and taking down websites they suspected of distributing copyrighted music.
The use of one of the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the country to enforce a civil matter is worrying: probably unlawful function creep that suggests, with the most benign interpretation, that their boss (one Theresa May MP) isn’t exercising proper oversight.
The tactics they used were even worse. The SOCA notification page suggests that they are monitoring anyone who visited a particular website and recording their personal details, and that anyone who had used the site to download songs would be liable to ten years imprisonment. Ten years in the slammer for downloading some R&B music.
Note also that SOCA, a Government agency, repeats verbatim a line from the music recording industry’s PR people: that “as a result of music downloads, emerging artists have had their careers damaged. If you have illegally downloaded music you have damaged the future of the music industry.”
And the damage that an illegal music download can do is worth ten years in chokey.
Let’s look at sentencing guidelines to see what you can get caught doing and get less than ten years in prison.
You can commit grievous bodily harm. You can commit an unlawful wounding. You can assault someone occasioning actual harm. In fact, if you assault someone you’ll probably get a community order, 6 months in a cell at most. Attempted murder can net you less than 10 years if you fail to actually hurt the victim. You can actually kill someone while driving that involved a deliberate decision to ignore (or a flagrant disregard for) the rules of the road and an apparent disregard for the great danger being caused to others AND GET LESS THAN TEN YEARS.
So according to SOCA, downloading an MP3 is worse than wounding someone with a knife or running them over and killing them.
Downloading a song is apparently worse than committing cruelty to a child of the most serious sort. Beating up a kid will get you two years at most.
You can even rape someone and it be judicially better than downloading a song, if you avoid actual penile penetration of your victim. Bonanza.
Maybe you feel like robbing someone by threatening them with a weapon or by using force so as to actually injure them during the course of the robbery? Less than ten years.
You can successfully carry out an aggravated burglary. You can raid a house wielding a knife, traumatise and steal from its inhabitants, and get significantly less than ten years imprisonment.
Which is to say that you can actually break into the house of an “emerging artist”, threaten them with a knife and rough them up a bit, then steal all their CDs, instruments, and recording equipment, and be treated, in sentencing terms, less harshly than if you downloaded one of their songs from a website.
I’d say that the British criminal justice system had its priorities wrong if SOCA’s claim was true… which, of course, it’s not.
Which makes me wonder… what are the sentencing guidelines for an officer of the law making outlandish threats and lying to the public during the course of his duties?