The Parliament has narrowly backed a historical but controversial Directive that would force member states to harmonise their penal codes – for the first time ever – in order to combat counterfeiting and piracy across Europe.
In an effort to clamp down on piracy and counterfeiting, Parliament endorsed, on 25 April 2007, measures for fining counterfeiters up to €300,000 or, in the most serious cases, jailing them for up to four years.
Rapporteur Nicola Zingaretti said that the directive – the first to harmonise member states’ criminal law – is needed to help combat large-scale organised crime.
Smaller offences, such as the shared use of protected products (eg photocopies of books for study or research purposes or music file-sharing) will remain under national civil law. Furthermore, private individuals have been excluded from the scope of the Directive, so long as they do not generate any profit from the use of the product.
Patents on inventions have also been left out of the Directive on the basis that such breaches are more difficult to verify and that civil law remains the most appropriate instrument for prosecuting this type of infringement.
However, for all other intellectual property violations, the rules create harmonised sanctions for national authorities to deal out to offenders.
The Directive will only enter into force if approved by member states. But that could prove somewhat difficult as countries such as the UK and the Netherlands fear that the EU is going too far by harmonising criminal codes – infringing on an area traditionally reserved for member states.