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The BBC's Janet Barrie
"Consumer groups had been concerned the proposals were too restrictive"
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Wednesday, 14 February, 2001, 16:04 GMT
EU votes yes to net piracy law
EU graphic
George Martin has been lobbying for greater protection
The European Parliament has approved controversial European proposals designed to protect copyright in the internet age.

The proposal - which will go to the EU Council of Ministers for final approval - would give owners the right

  • to use encryption to block the duplication of copyright-protected works

  • to limit the illegal downloading of audio and video files from the internet

"It is a balanced directive, a positive directive," said Enrico Boselli, the Italian socialist who guided the legislation through parliament.

"What happened to Napster, will now happen in Europe.

"The illegal use of work subject to copyright will now be banned."

Napster ruling

The EU vote follows a decision by the US appeals court on Monday to order online file swapping service Napster to stop its millions of users trading copyrighted material.

The directive could have been tougher

Francesca Greco, ARTIS GEIE

The BBC's Europe reporter Janet Barrie believes MEPs have now ended a legal vacuum.

"It would almost certainly be the end of online music swapping services like Napster, where consumers can download songs from the internet and make as many copies as they like.

"The legislation also allows for copyright holders to protect their work by using the latest technology to make it physically impossible to make copies."

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, who had been sceptical before the bill was debated, said it was satisfied with what it called "a workable proposal".

"There are enough elements here for the music industry to speed up the offering of music to consumers in a wider range of ways," said spokesman Jay Berman.

But many artists believe the legislation is not strong enough and fails to protect rights holders adequately from piracy.

"In the digital environment, a copy is a real clone of the original. The directive could have been tougher," said Francesca Greco, director of European artists' group ARTIS GEIE.

Struggling bands

Beatles' producer George Martin is just one music industry figure who lobbied the parliament for greater protection.

The John Lennon of the future will not materialise and that's too terrible to contemplate

George Martin

He has said it was not the big music stars that needed protection, but the hundreds of thousands of struggling artists that were just starting their careers.

"If there is no curb on this, you will stifle creativity," he said. "The John Lennon of the future will not materialise and that's too terrible to contemplate," he added.

But consumers' representatives said such fears were unjustified as most net surfers did not set out to pirate music or video.

"It's a very small minority that makes excessive use of copyright material on the Internet," said Machiel van der Velde, legal advisor at European consumers' Association BEUC.

The actor's union Equity, the Musicians' Union, Writers' Guild and Directors' Guild have attacked an amendment which will allow broadcasters to pay minimum royalties for using archive material on the internet and interactive TV.

In a letter to The Times they described the plan as "legalised theft".

Archive material

Unions are further concerned that the availability of cheap archive material will lessen demand for original work.

"If new media are exploited merely to recycle endlessly the back catalogue, the supply of artistic imaginative new material will dry up," the statement to The Times continued.

The directive has to be approved by the governments of member states but officials said there is a good chance that this will happen as the European Parliament had retained a balance between the many conflicting interests.

"They have followed the Council's (EU ministers') line, tightening the area of private copying but keeping the equilibrium between artists and consumers," one official said.

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See also:

22 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Cuckoos in Napster's net
18 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
How to produce pirate-proof pop
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