Critics delay vote on EU intellectual property law

A far-reaching proposed directive covering the enforcement of intellectual property rights has been delayed again amid ongoing controversy

A proposed European Union law strengthening law-enforcement capabilities against intellectual-property violations has been delayed again, amid ongoing criticism that its implementation would criminalise many innocuous activities and harm European competition.

The draft directive on the enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights was set for a vote in the European Parliament on 11 September, but was delayed until early November, then until this week. It is now scheduled for a vote on 27 November.

The delays are the result of the intense controversy surrounding the directive, one of several major proposed changes to the way intellectual property is handled in the EU. A 2001 copyright directive, known as the EUCD, finally passed into UK law last month, after delays. The European Parliament approved a directive on software patents only after making significant changes, the result of widespread protests by computer scientists, economists, tech companies and software developers.

The MEP responsible for guiding the IP enforcement directive through the European Parliament, Janelly Fourtou -- the wife of Vivendi Universal president and chief executive Jean-Rene Fourtou -- granted the delay in response to demands by a majority of the Parliament's Judicial Affairs Committee. MEPs including Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens argued that more discussion was necessary to understand the directive's implications, according to sources familiar with the situation.

A vote is unlikely before the end of the year, however, because the EU Council has introduced its own version of the directive, which must be reconciled with the version in Parliament, according to Andreas Dietl, EU affairs director with European Digital Rights (EDRI).

Heated debate
When the proposal was first introduced in January, it drew a "dismayed" reaction from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and other copyright-holder lobbyists, which called for the measures to be beefed up.

The IFPI argued in January that the proposed measures are not tough enough to hold back an "epidemic of counterfeiting", complaining that "the tools the proposal introduces to bring actions against infringers do not even reach the levels already available under some existing national laws" and may "fall short" of what it called international standards, in a reference to the US' Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The draft legislation aims to represent "best practice" legislation, rather than taking on board the strongest anti-piracy measures of the member states, according to the EU.

Critics from civil liberties organisations say that large multinationals would be the biggest beneficiaries of the directive, because of its ban on reverse engineering, while street buskers and book readers for the blind would be criminalised.