Music industry attacks EU copyright proposal

Proposed EU legislation for shutting down intellectual property pirates isn't hard enough on file-traders and peer-to-peer systems, according to an industry group

The music industry has condemned proposed EU legislation for protecting intellectual property, saying that it "falls far short" of what is necessary to fight piracy.

Last week, the EU issued a proposed directive aimed at harmonising different systems for enforcing intellectual property laws, including copyrights and patents. The proposal aims to strike a balance between the needs of rights holders and users, concentrating on the most commercially damaging infringements rather than on individuals who may be breaking the law, such as users of peer-to-peer file-trading services.

This approach has hit a flat note with the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), however, which issued a "dismayed" statement calling for the proposed measures to be beefed up. "The Commission's proposal is inadequate in view of the magnitude of the piracy problem and fails to introduce urgently needed measures to hold back the epidemic of counterfeiting," the IFPI stated.

The proposal should have outlined a tough new approach to cracking down on pirates, and its failure to do so "gives the wrong political signal", according to the IFPI. The organisation said it would look to the European Parliament to extend the scope of the draft legislation and strengthen its measures.

The EU said that the proposal aims to create a "level playing field" across all member states, "especially in those countries where the enforcement of intellectual property rights is currently weakest."

Rather than taking on board the strongest anti-piracy measures of the member states, however, the draft legislation aims to represent "best practice" legislation, the EU said. "Those are not always the most draconian and there are a number of measures currently available in certain EU countries which have not been included."

However, the IFPI complained 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, such as the US' Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA is a US national law that some other countries are looking to as a starting point for implementing their own laws.

Unlike the DMCA, the proposed EU rules do not take a hard-line stance against individuals swapping digital music or video files for personal use.

The proposal "is not aimed at allowing the prosecution of large numbers of individuals using peer-to-peer networks for casual file swapping," the EU said. "Although considerable injury to rightholders can be caused by an individual via his/her computer linked to the Internet, it is not in the interest of rightholders to spend a lot of time and money in litigation to catch offenders who are simply sharing a few files with a handful of friends."

The EU shied away from condemning P2P systems outright, instead arguing that those which "seriously damage rightholders" would be stopped. This, also, is a divergence with the DMCA, which is less tolerant of copyright abuse.

Some of the IFPI's complaints may be more a matter of form than anything else, according to legal analysts.

The concentration on substantial infringement activity rather than on individuals may send out the wrong signal, from the IFPI's point of view, but it is likely to make little practical difference, according to John Salmon, a partner with law firm Masons. "Music labels do not want to sue individual customers. That doesn't make them look very good. These people are their customers," he said.

Large international businesses are wary that the EU is beginning to diverge from the US where it comes to the enforcement of copyright laws, an issue that has also arisen around the patentability of software, Salmon said. "The principles for copyrights and patents were the same worldwide, with different countries looking at them in slightly different ways. But now the implimentation is starting to look different. That's complex for global companies to deal with."

Last month a panel of judges ruled that a teenager did not violate Norway's laws when, in order to use a Linux computer to play a DVD he'd purchased, he broke protections on the disc. The ruling hinged on the fact that the defendant cracked the DVD's copy protection for his own personal use.

The EU said that counterfeiting, defined as "something made in imitation of something else with the intent to deceive," is estimated to reduce the EU's GDP by 8bn euros annually.

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