European Parliament paving way for tougher anti-piracy rules


A vote today (1 June) in the European Parliament has given a boost to a report by a French centre-right MEP seen as a hardline anti-piracy advocate and whose opponents claim will pave the way for draconian policies to stop people from downloading content illegally. 

There appears to be no end in sight to an ongoing anti-piracy row in the European Parliament about how to stop illegal downloading, echoing a similar debate that derailed the EU's telecoms package last year (EURACTIV 25/11/09).

In today's vote, 13 MEPs from the legislature's legal affairs committee (JURI) were in favour of Marielle Gallo's report, while eight were against. Those in favour come from the Parliament's centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), while the Socialist and Democrat (S&D) group were against it.

The report, according to its Socialist critics, gives governments a mandate to introduce the highly contested three strikes rule, which would cut off an Internet user's connection if they are caught making an illegal download three times.

However, Gallo denies this claim and says she is not in favour of this policy, but instead prefers a Spanish proposal currently making its way through the national parliament in Madrid.

The Spanish policy, which has also divided national policymakers in Madrid, would shut down the websites caught by a judge for providing illegal downloads to users.

Gallo's advisers accuse the Parliament's socialist factions of painting her as too hardline because she is a member of the same right-wing party as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), which has long been an advocate of a three strikes approach.

That said, the report is still contradictory: it clearly states that piracy has produced great losses for the cultural industry, while calling on the European Commission to quantify those losses due to a lack of reliable evidence on the phenomenon so far.

A report by Tera Consultancy, which Socialist MEP Francoise Castex claims was sponsored by entertainment company Universal, says piracy of creative content in the EU would lead to revenue losses of €240 billion by 2015, resulting in 1.2 million jobs lost by 2015.

Such sweeping statements were recently discredited by the American, Canadian and Dutch governments, who have begun questioning the report's methodologies and have asked their governments to conduct independent investigations into the impact of piracy.

The French version of the law, Hadopi, is currently in limbo at the country's highest authority, the Conseil d'Etat, which observers say is waiting to see what the European Parliament decides in the coming weeks.

In early May, Ireland was the first country to introduce a three-strikes policy after its Internet service provider, Eircom, was taken to court by the Irish Recorded Music Association for the level of content that had been illegally downloaded on its network.

In the summer of 2009, EU telecoms ministers and the European Parliament were embroiled in a row over the EU's telecoms package and how it should treat illegal downloading.

EU ministers were in favour of a more hardline law, like the 'three strikes and you're out' approach, while MEPs fought to water down sanctions for fear that people downloading content for non-commercial purposes would receive the same punishment as criminal gangs committing piracy on a much larger scale.

Ireland is the first country to introduce a three strikes approach after Internet service provider Eircom caved into the pressure of a lawsuit filed against it by the music industry.

The French version of the law, Hadopi, is in limbo at the country's highest authority, the Conseil d'Etat, which observers say is waiting to see what the European Parliament decides in the coming weeks. 

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