MEPs yesterday voted to pass a controversial new directive into national law that would lump casual and unintentional copyright infringers in with organised crime.
Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said: 'Today the European Parliament has taken an important step forward in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy while keeping the emphasis on catching "the big fish" rather than the "tiddlers" who commit relatively harmless acts like downloading a couple of tracks off the Internet for their own use. Counterfeiting and piracy is on the rise. Nowadays it is often even more attractive to criminals than drug trafficking and its perpetrators are linked more and more to organised crime.'
MEPs voted 330 for and 151 against with 39 abstaining to have the Directive on Intellectual Property Enforcement adopted by member states. The final draft of the bill remains unchanged despite civil liberties groups lobbying hard for amendments that would differentiate between organised pirating and counterfeiting and the casual user of a peer to peer network, for example.
'Under this Directive, a person who unwittingly infringes copyright - even if it has no effect on the market - could potentially have her assets seized, bank accounts frozen, and home invaded,' said EFF Staff Attorney Gwen Hinze.
While the EU says that 'the draft Directive contains the necessary safeguards and limitations to protect the interests not only of the defendant but also of potentially innocent offenders, who have unknowingly been involved in illegal practices,' there is nothing that stipulates that powers outlined by Hinze cannot be applied to the unwary 'tiddler'.
The one apparent compromise is the ommission of measures to impose criminal sanctions. This was at the behest of Janelly Fourtou, the MEP responsible for the Directive. She, however, has her own reasons for making the Directive more palatable and thus more likely to be quickly approved as her husband is the CEO of Vivendi Universal.
With the Directive passed unchanged, the next step for what looks set to be the European version of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act in the US to pass under the scrutiny of the Council of Ministers, which is likely to endorse it on 11 March, 2004. Following that, it will be implemented into national law within two years.
Remember the eighties, "Home taping is killing music", err.... no it didn't.