EU delays vote on 'Euro-DMCA'

A vote on the EU's proposed directive on the enforcement of intellectual property rights, which has been compared to a draconian US law, has been pushed back to November

This week's European Parliament vote on a proposed law aimed at cracking down on piracy has been delayed until November, amid criticism that its implementation would criminalise many innocuous activities and harm European competition.

A UK civil liberties group says it believes the law could even backfire on some large high-tech companies, such as Microsoft and eBay, by opening the companies up to more serious legal attacks. Microsoft is one of the sponsors of the draft directive.

The proposed directive on the enforcement of intellectual property rights, earlier set for a vote in a Thursday plenary session, is now scheduled for discussion on 4 November. Janelly Fourtou, the MEP responsible for guiding the proposal through parliament, has not yet produced her report on the draft legislation, according to those familiar with the situation.

The delay follows on the heels of the rescheduling of a vote on a proposal on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions, which has attracted heated criticism from computer scientists, economists and developers. Critics charge it would make efficient software development difficult, and increase the grip of large multinational companies on the software industry.

When the proposal on enforcement of intellectual property rights 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' controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The IFPI estimated that more than one billion pirate music CDs have been sold, which means one in every three discs is illegal. The organisation estimates the industry has lost $4.6bn (£2.86bn) because of piracy.

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

Civil liberties threat?
Critics 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.

The directive could backfire on some of its sponsors, such as Microsoft, according to Ross Anderson of the UK's Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR). He said that while currently Microsoft is able to "steamroll" most of the civil patent-infringement actions against it, these could become more of a threat when such infringement is criminalised.

EBay, the online auction giant, could also be among the unexpected victims, Anderson said, because sales of intellectual property are liable to lawsuits if sold outside their original legal jurisdiction.

"If you buy a CD in New York, and next year you sell it on eBay to a person in Paris, you can be sued for copyright infringement," Anderson told ZDNet UK. "At present, no-one bothers. However, once such sales become a crime, they could add up to something nasty."

The European Parliament is also facing criticism over a 2001 directive on copyright. An analysis on the implementation of the copyright directive, published this week by FIPR, said the law was damaging European scientific research as well as eroding consumers' rights on how they may make use of copyrighted materials.