MEPs urge Europe-wide copyright crackdown

The European Parliament has voted through the Gallo report, which includes a non-binding recommendation that the Commission introduce criminal penalties for unlawful file-sharing

Members of the European Parliament have approved the Gallo report, a document that calls for a continent-wide crackdown on online copyright infringement.

The report, authored by French rapporteur Marielle Gallo, was given backing by the parliament's committee on legal affairs in June. It is an 'own-initiative' report, which means it is not legally binding, but serves rather as a recommendation to the European Commission. It was passed by 328 votes to 245 on Wednesday.

According to EU sources, own-initiative reports are frequently written by lobbyists, before being presented by individual MEPs as their own work. Digital-rights campaigners have compared the Gallo report's recommendations to those enacted in France's Hadopi laws. Those laws, which came into effect this week, subject suspected unlawful file-sharers to a 'three-strikes' policy that culminates in disconnection from the internet.

Although it stops short of recommending the three-strikes rule, the Gallo report calls for greater enforcement of copyright law. Much of the report is devoted to lambasting the Commission for not having a sufficiently strong framework in place for defending intellectual property rights (IPR). The report also suggests that the EU needs to introduce criminal sanctions for copyright infringement, in addition to the civil sanctions that are already available to rights holders.

"The European Parliament... does not share the Commission's certitude that the current civil enforcement framework in the EU is effective and harmonised to the extent necessary for the proper functioning of the internal market," the report says.

Another focus of the report was whether existing laws are sufficient to prevent unlawful distribution of copyrighted works. It says the parliament "does not share the Commission's view that the principal body of laws with respect to IPR enforcement is already in place", adding that parliamentarians believe "the possibility of proceeding against infringers of intellectual property rights should be created in the European legal framework".

The report claims that the Commission has "not mentioned or discussed the delicate problem of online IPR infringements", despite the publication in May of the Commission's Digital Agenda. Part of that agenda document explicitly addressed the fact that unlawful file-sharing currently represents the only Europe-wide single market for digital content.

Increasing instances of copyright infringement will discourage businesses from development, according to Gallo. "Ongoing infringements of IPRs will lead to...

...a fade-out of innovation in the EU, [and] the phenomenon of online IPR infringements has assumed worrying proportions," the report warns.

However, the report also acknowledges that the information available about the scale of copyright infringement is "inconsistent, incomplete, insufficient and dispersed". It calls for an objective, independent impact assessment before the parliament moves ahead with any additional legislative proposal.

A major problem identified by Gallo is a lack of easy, legal models for buying music and videos in a consistent way across Europe. "The current system of granting licences must be improved in such a way that the member states have a flexible system available to them that can be adapted to the new technologies," the report states.

Gallo calls on the creative sector to "continue to develop models enabling access to creative content online which offer improved and cost-effective choices to consumers, including access to unlimited subscription services". It claims that the growth of unlawfully uploaded content online hinders these developments.

The report outlines actions the Commission can take to encourage the creative industries and to quench unlawful file-sharing. It calls on the Commission to put "pressure on the industry to come up with new payment facilities, in order to make it easier for European consumers to buy legally offered content, thereby ensuring that legal downloading will increase in the EU".

It also stresses that any new measures for cracking down on infringement must respect people's fundamental rights.

However, digital-rights campaigners La Quadrature du Net responded to the European Parliament vote by saying "this very repressive text is one more step in the entertainment industries' crusade against their own public".

"The Gallo report is an illustration of the will of the entertainment industry to try to impose private copyright police and justice [on] the net," La Quad chief Jeremie Zimmermann said in a statement. "Repressive schemes such as the three-strikes policies and other internet-access restrictions — typified by the French Hadopi or the UK Digital Economy laws — negate fundamental rights, such as the right to a fair trial, the freedom of communication or the right to privacy. So far, they have also turned out to be a political and technical failure."

A spokesperson for the office of internal market commissioner Michel Barnier, who deals with copyright-related issues, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that the Commission would take the Gallo report into account.

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