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The German justice minister has defended changes to German law which will increase sentences for consumers caught downloading copyrighted material to two years. Anyone caught downloading songs or films for commercial purposes could get up to five years in prison.

The changes come into force on 1 January 2007. Justice minister Brigitte Zypries said consumers would still be allowed to make copies of legitimately bought DVDs, but she said people downloading copies of films before they were released in cinemas were clearly breaking the law.

German consumer groups were less impressed, saying the law sends the wrong message and criminalises consumers.

The changes follow sustained lobbying by the film industry in Germany, which claims that piracy is a particular problem in the country and has led to falling sales. It claims Germans download more than 20m films a year.

Critics say falling cinema attendance and DVD sales have more to do with the quality of Hollywood products than the impact of piracy.

More from the Times here. ®

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