United Kingdom ignorant and clueless in pushing a ten-year prison sentence for unauthorized sharing: not even death penalty stops sharing

Posted on Jul 8, 2016 by Rick Falkvinge

The United Kingdom appears to stubbornly move ahead with a ten year prison sentence for unauthorized sharing. This is not just counterproductive, but stupid and ineffective. Evidence shows that not even a horrible death penalty deters sharing between people: it’s a deeply inwired altruistic behavior.

The UK seems hellbent on pandering to crumbling monopolies and raising the maximum sentence for unauthorized sharing to ten years in prison. This is not just stupid and dumb, it’s also counter to all evidence that exists as to what works to make people share less, assuming 1) that’s actually your goal – to hinder the coming sharing economy and your own competitiveness – and 2) that you don’t take into account the unverifiable and unreviewable “evidence” provided by the industries whose paycheck depend on them not learning a thing about the world around them.

You’d have to assume that in raising penalties like this – fivefolding them and legislating that unauthorized sharing is a worse crime than manslaughter – you expect the change to have some sort of effect. But all evidence says it won’t. None at all.

There’s one government on the planet that already has taken this to extremes. And penalties and punishments for unauthorized sharing don’t work, period.

North Korea has the worst imaginable penalty – death penalty by death camp for not just you, but for your children too, and their children in turn – for being caught with any form of Western entertainment (always copied, of course). There’s no legal defense for the form of copying, or fair use, or anything. Actually, there’s not even the concept of a legal defense in the first place. If you are even watching copied culture, you’re guilty.

This begs the question how the North Korean government determines what movies people watch? They don’t have cameras in living rooms. Well, as it turns out, when enforcement of media monopoly is everything, you can take quite a few shortcuts and make some sacrifices. They turn off the power to entire villages, raid house by house, and see what DVDs are stuck in the players and unable to eject in the power outage. Not even Hollywood has suggested such enforcement measures. Yet.

The takeaway here?

Punishing three generations with the death penalty, using ridiculously invasive enforcement, still doesn’t deter people from sharing entertainment.

The Daily Beast writes of testimonies from escapees from the hellhole that is North Korea:

Yeonmi Park saw a friend’s mother be publicly executed for watching a contraband DVD. But not even the threat of death can suppress the urge to live vicariously through Jack Dawson and James Bond.

So as the United Kingdom suggests a ten-year prison sentence instead of a two-year one for illegal copying, it can be safely predicted to have no effects whatsoever. This move is ignorant of history, of current events, of technology, and frankly, of how people basically function. The only concern appears to be to preserve old vested crumbling interests at any cost, regardless of whether those actions even have any effect.

But as we can observe, not even a much higher cost – to the point where it’s hard to imagine getting tougher on this “crime” – has any effect at all in preventing the ongoing generational shift. So the United Kingdom is taking on a huge cost to its population that will have no effect at all, except possibly preventing entrepreneurship, future jobs, and competitiveness on the other side of this shift.

You don’t need to go to contemporary North Korea to see this part of human nature, by the way. (It’s always easy to wave off North Korea as being an outlier basketcase, even when it provides valuable information on human nature.) But you can just as well look at European history.

When the printing press arrived, the exact same thing happened with the previous gatekeepers of media and entertainment. They lobbied for harsher and harsher laws until on January 13, 1535, in France, the penalty for any use of a printing press reached the death penalty. Again, even then, even there, it had no practical effect. (The official justification of the law was to “prevent the spread of dangerous ideas”. Does that ring a bell from today’s rhetoric?)

There’s a similar story of when cloth patterns for the nobility were copied by commoners, and the punishment for doing so was “breaking on the wheel” – essentially a prolonged death penalty that took days of torturous agony. There were places where over ten thousand people were executed like this for unauthorized sharing. It still didn’t make a dent in people’s behavior: we’re simply too wired for sharing interesting and beautiful things, and that’s a good thing.

No punishment that mankind is capable of inventing has ever made a dent in unauthorized sharing. Politicians in the United Kingdom are misguided and ignorant.

Of course, the observation that not even the death penalty has deterred sharing and copying – neither today nor in the past – is a very liberating observation. Once you accept this simple fact for what it is, that any and all attempts to stop copying is futile and a waste of effort, you can instead choose to focus on all the positive effects of free sharing of knowledge and culture. It’s what built the Industrialization and brought Europe out of the middle ages, so it can’t be all bad.

Until politicians become capable of observing the actual reality instead of the one the vested interests wish for, your privacy remains your own responsibility.

VPN Service

Comments are closed.


  1. Robert Littler

    We used to break people on the wheel (smash limbs and thread them through a cartwheel and leave you to the crows) for copying weaving patterns reserved for nobility, that didn’t stop people from sharing designs.

    5 years ago
  2. Fazal Majid

    The UK has a long and shameful history of using draconian punishment for property crimes against the elite. The Frame Breaking Act of 1812 made it a capital offense for unemployed weavers to break mechanized looms.

    5 years ago
    1. Falkvinge

      Spinning Jenny?

      5 years ago