Anti-internet piracy law adopted by Spanish government

headphones An IDC report suggested that 97.8% of music consumption in Spain was illegal

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The Spanish government has approved tough new legislation which could see websites deemed to be trading in pirated material blocked within ten days.

The legislation creates a government body with powers to force internet service providers to block sites.

It comes as the US plans to adopt similar tough new rules.

The crackdown on piracy has been welcomed by the creative industries but criticised by net activists.

Hacktivists

Under the Sinde Law, named after the former Spanish Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, rights holders can report websites hosting infringing content to a newly created government commission.

The intellectual property commission will decide whether it wants to take action against an infringing site or the ISPs providing infrastructure to it, and the case will then be passed to a judge to rule on whether the site should be shut down.

The aim is to complete the process within 10 days.

The Spanish government said that the legislation was necessary to bring it in line with international crackdowns on piracy.

It had been put on hold by the previous government but the ruling party, Partido Popular, decided to move ahead and implement it at one of its first meetings since coming to power in November.

Deputy PM Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said that the aim of the law was "to safeguard intellectual property, boost our culture industries and protect the rights of owners, creators and others in the face of the lucrative plundering of illegal downloading sites."

Campaigners said that it set a dangerous precedent.

"This is another example of bad copyright law eating away at the safeguards around freedom of expression," said Peter Bradwell from the UK's Open Rights Group.

"The same overblown demands to pare down proper legal processes are being made to the government here in the UK. Our policy makers must not throw away the keys to the internet simply because copyright lobbyists are quite good at complaining."

Opposition has been strong in Spain, with bloggers, journalists and tech professionals staging a series of protests, including writing an anti-Sinde manifesto.

Last year hacktivist group Anonymous organised a protest at the Goya Awards - Spain's equivalent of the Oscars - which saw several hundred people in Guy Fawkes masks booing the minister of culture while applauding Alex de la Iglesia, then president of the Spanish Film Academy.

The movie director had previously voiced opposition to the Sinde law on Twitter and later resigned over the issue.

Old laws

The creative industries around the world have been frustrated with delays in implementing laws designed to crack down on piracy such as the UK's Digital Economy Act.

Instead many are finding new ways to use existing laws to crack down on piracy. In the UK, the movie industry body MPA (Motion Picture Association) used copyright law to force BT to block access to Newzbin, a members-only site which links to pirated material.

Following the success of the case, Sky has also agreed to block access.

In France, the government is pursuing a three strikes policy for persistent pirates. Hadopi, the body set up to administer the policy, said in mid-2011 that over the previous nine months it had been tracking 18 million French IP addresses.

It sent a total of 470,000 first warnings by email, with 20,000 users receiving a second warning through the mail.

About 10 people who appeared to ignore the two warnings were asked to come and explain their actions to the agency.

Big problem

Across the Atlantic, the US law Sopa (Stop Online Piracy Act) is proving equally controversial. A series of tech firms have removed their names for a list of supporters following widespread opposition from high profile tech leaders such as Eric Schmidt.

Sopa aims to stop online ad networks and payment processors from doing business with foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.

It could stop search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites. Domain name registrars could be forced to take down the websites, and internet service providers could be forced to block access to the sites accused of infringing.

The founders of Google, Twitter and eBay were among a large group of signatories to a strongly worded letter to Congress criticising the legislation as censorship.

US pressure was in part responsible for Spain's current tough anti-piracy stance, following a 2008 report that found it to be one of the worst countries in Europe for piracy.

A later IDC report - The Observation of Piracy and Consumption of Digital Content Habits - commissioned by a coalition of Spain's rights-holders suggested that piracy in Spain cost legal content rights owners 5.2bn euros ($6.8bn, £4.3bn) in the first half of 2010.

It claimed that 97.8% of all music consumption in Spain was driven by illegal downloads, with 77% of movie downloads and 60.7% of game downloads taking place illegally in the first six months of 2010, according to a study conducted by IDC Research for the Madrid-based Coalition of Content Creators and Industries.

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