Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Custodial sentence appropriate for sustained online infringement

In an interesting decision, the Court of Appeal in London has upheld a custodial sentence imposed on Wayne Evans by HHJ Trevor Jones at the Crown Court in Liverpool for two offences of distributing an article infringing copyright contrary to section 107(1)(e) of the Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988 and also to a further offence of possessing an article for use in fraud contrary to section 6(1) of the Fraud Act 2006.

Evans operated a number of websites which were responsible for the illegal distribution of licensed and copyrighted material. He did not himself have the material on his own websites, but he facilitated internet users by operating websites which permitted them to go elsewhere in order to find digital material via what are called "torrent" websites which permitted such downloading. The appellant himself had three websites which he administered. They were hosted through a proxy server, a computer system or application which facilitated access to material on the internet and which also provided a degree of anonymity to those who were supplying or accessing it and which bypassed other sites which might have been blocked by UK internet service providers. The three website also shared an internet protocol address. They were set up using the same email account registered to the appellant. He had no licence or permission for his activities from the UK's performing right and mechanical copyright organisation PRS for Music.

Evans (39) had no previous convictions of any kind. He pleaded guilty, at what was accepted to be the first practical moment. But the court imposed a twelve month custodial sentence on the first count: on the second count he was sentenced to 6 months' imprisonment. On the third count, the count of possessing an article for use in fraud, he was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment. All sentences were stated to run concurrently. Consequently the total sentence was one of 12 months' immediate imprisonment. 

The Court of Appeal noted that there was no Definitive Guideline issued by the Sentencing Council in respect of offences contrary to section 107 of the CDPA 1988 However, the Definitive Guideline issued by the Sentencing Council with regard to fraud, bribery and money laundering offences did apply to count 3 on this particular indictment: that is to say, possessing an article for use in fraud. By reference to that Guideline, it was common ground before the judge on this count that this was a case of high culpability and greater harm and that the relevant starting point was one of 18 months' custody for such an offence: with a category range of 36 weeks' custody to 3 years' custody.

But nevertheless, Evans appealed the sentence and argued that  a total sentence of 12 months imprisonment was excessive in the circumstances of this particular case. In particular, it was said that such a sentence failed sufficiently to acknowledge that the appellant was not motivated by financial gain and scarcely did gain. It is said also that he had mental health issues and related personal mitigation. He was of previous good character and was most unlikely to re-offend. In that regard, emphasis was put on the pre-sentence report which contained views precisely to that effect and also explained the difficult personal background of the appellant. The appellant argued that whilst this offending did cross the custody threshold, the resulting sentence could and should have been suspended and, further or alternatively, could and should have been a shorter sentence in terms of length.

But the Court upheld the original sentence, placing weight on the deterrent effect of the sentence despite the fact there was no evidence to suggest that the appellant had made any significant sums of money out of these activities, on the loss suffered by the music industry (although the loss estimated by PRS for Music was considered 'notional'), and the sustained nature of the offending, which continued even after Evans had received cease and desist notices (which Evans ignored) with Lord Justice Davis saying:

The appellant may not have been motivated by gain for himself. But there was undoubtedly a real loss to the owners of the relevant copyrights and related performers. Further, quite apart from such loss as could be identified and quantified, such offending always has a wider detrimental impact on the music industry and its profitability: and the music industry is an important economic contributor to society. That detriment is none the less real for being difficult to quantify. As has, in fact, long been established in the context of intellectual property offending, an element of deterrent sentencing is justified in this context; not least also because of the difficulty in tracking down and investigating such offending. Most certainly here the appellant had strong personal mitigation. But his conduct was sustained and he persisted in it even after receiving the cease and desist notices. He carried on his activities for a lengthy period of time and he used sophisticated equipment for the purpose.


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