Group warns of Europe's 'DMCA on steroids'

A coalition of 38 civil liberties groups is urging voters to oppose a law that it argues could clamp down on competition across the EU and criminalise consumers

A coalition of 38 civil liberties organisations is the latest to attack proposed EU legislation on intellectual property enforcement, which has also come under fire from the recording industry and a British Internet policy think tank.

The groups argue that the proposed IP Enforcement Directive, is a "DMCA on steroids" that would hand broad anti-competitive powers to large foreign companies, limit competition, and erode the traditional rights of consumers to use the products they purchase as they see fit. The DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, is a controversial US law being used by the US recording industry to sue users of peer-to-peer networks.

In a letter to the EU Committee on Legal Affairs and Internal Market (Juri) issued on Monday, they urged the parliament to reject the proposal in its current form when it comes up for voting on 11 September. The groups launched the Campaign for an Open Digital Environment (Code) to raise awareness of the problems raised by the draft legislation.

"One can think of the EU IP Enforcement Directive as a 'DMCA on steroids' since any industrial property right that can be licensed will be enforced through technical devices that it will be absolutely illegal to circumvent throughout Europe," stated Robin Gross, executive director of US-based IP Justice.

Code's letter focused its criticism on two of the directive's measures: Article 9, which allows intellectual property holders to subpoena data on alleged infringers without jumping through the usual legal hoops, and Article 21, which forbids technology capable of bypassing intellectual property restrictions. Both articles have counterparts in the DMCA.

Of Article 9, Code wrote that it violates consumer privacy rights and "unreasonably burdens universities, Internet service providers, and other innocent third-party intermediaries who must respond to massive numbers of subpoenas and turn in customers for prosecution."

The coalition wrote that Article 21 "erodes the public's fair use (fair dealing) and freedom of expression rights by outlawing all technologies, including software, that are capable of bypassing technical restrictions."

Code argued the article would also allow companies that already dominate a market to extend their dominance by prohibiting the sale of compatible, competing technologies.

Ville Oksanen, a lawyer and vice chairman of Electronic Frontier Finland, said that a slew of incoming legislation, including the IP Enforcement Directive, the EU Copyright Directive and the EU Software Patent Directive, threatened to create disruptions in the European intellectual property system that would end up being worked out in court. Contrary to what the Enforcement Directive claims, Member States are already obliged by international treaties like Trips to protect intellectual property rights," Oksanen stated.

Code is urging voters to contact Juri about their concerns over the directive.

The group includes three British organisations, the Campaign for Digital Rights (CDR), Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties, and the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), as well as organisations from Portugal, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, Bulgaria, Spain and the US.

When the draft directive appeared early this year, it was criticised by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry as too lenient toward individual infringers.