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Europe approves anti-piracy compromise

Critics and supporters of a proposed Europe-wide antipiracy law were disappointed by a compromise text approved by the European Parliament yesterday.

The law, which was originally intended to stop peddlers in goods such as pirated CDs, counterfeit luxury items and look-alike drugs, has morphed to become more wide-reaching, consumer groups and civil liberties champions claimed.

They argue that the law will be used to clamp down on individuals who copy music off the internet, as well as those who make money copying goods created by others.

Meanwhile, intellectual property rights owners, such as record companies and software manufacturers, described the new law as a step in the right direction, but said it falls short of their expectations.

"Rights holders are unhappy about it, but it is an in-between solution we can live with," said Francisco Mingorance, director of public policy in the Brussels office of the Business Software Alliance, a trade group representing firms including Microsoft.

Rights holders urged the European Commission to push ahead with another, tougher law that imposes criminal punishments for all types of intellectual property infringements.

The text, supported by a majority of members of the parliament at a plenary meeting in Strasbourg, is far less draconian than some members wanted. Attempts to criminalise petty infringements of intellectual property by private individuals were thrown out, and the ability of rights holders to demand bank details and computer information about suspected intellectual property abusers was restricted to serious cases only.

Rights holders will need an injunction signed by "a competent judicial authority" to search the premises of a suspect, according to the compromise version. Some members of parliament wanted to grant rights holders much easier access to premises of suspected abusers.

Andreas Dietl, European Union affairs director at European Digital Rights, a group fighting for citizens' rights on the internet, said the law is inadequate because "a competent judicial authority could be a court clerk. We wanted this law to specify that a judge should sign such an injunction".

However, telecommunications companies, which have opposed attempts to force them to reveal information about their internet subscribers, said they can live with the compromise text.

Counterfeiting and piracy cost the EU €8bn a year in lost economic output between 1998 and 2001. .

The 10 new members joining the EU in May have had almost no role in drafting the law, which is being rushed through with unprecedented haste for a complicated piece of legislation. A second debate by the parliament, which is the normal procedure for such laws, will not take place in this instance, so that the code is passed before 1 May.

National governments of the existing member states, with the parliament and the commission, hammered out the compromise ahead of yesterday's parliament vote, making a second reading unnecessary.

"It's an odd lesson in democracy for the former communist states of central Europe," said Thomas Vinje, an expert in IP law and a partner in the Brussels office of law firm Clifford Chance.

Paul Meller writes for IDG News Service


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