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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 13:22 GMT
Tackling the property pirates
A newly passed a EU anti-piracy law provides a vital tool against counterfeiters, argue British MEPs Malcolm Harbour (Conservative) and Arlene McCarthy (Labour).

Policeman with counterfeit goods
Law intended to tighten controls on pirated goods
What have the following got in common - a designer mug, a pack of Viagra, Head and Shoulders shampoo, a packet of contraceptives?

They are all targets for product counterfeiters. Every day, legitimate business is being undermined and consumers are being ripped off by illegal copies.

The profits from this theft, which is what it is, are being siphoned off by international criminal gangs.

The loss of EU business turnover in 2003 has been calculated at 45-60 billion euros and it is growing rapidly.

It is difficult for the companies concerned to deal with the problem. Many of them already incur substantial legal fees in protecting their intellectual property.

In the EU, there has been no consistent means of enforcing their rights in every country. In some countries, intellectual property theft has not even been recognised as an offence.

Following a vote in the European Parliament on Tuesday, that is set to change. The many EU companies affected by counterfeiting will have some further tools to help them.

'Debate hijacked'

MEPs supported a proposal from the Commission and the member states that will give them the right to take civil action to protect their intellectual property in any EU country.

There is no question of the directive providing for dawn raids by police on teenagers downloading music in their home
The timing was crucial; we wanted this to come into force ahead of the enlargement of the EU, thus tackling the potential flow of goods through the greatly enlarged land and sea borders.

Under the proposal, companies will be able to apply for injunctions to prevent counterfeit goods being distributed. When they can demonstrate infringements, they can apply for the offending items - and if appropriate, the means of illicit production - to be destroyed.

They can ask courts to compel counterfeiters to produce written evidence and bank accounts. They can claim damages for the harm done to their legitimate business.

But the discussions surrounding the directive have been totally hijacked by over imaginative lobbyists from the online community.

They have completely misrepresented the proposal, and scared thousands of consumers in an entirely irresponsible way about the impact of the directive.

Personal attacks

Let us set the record straight. The directive has always been intended to tackle professional, commercial scale counterfeiting.

Pile of counterfeit DVDs
Profits from counterfeit goods go to criminal gangs
It has been designed to help businesses of all sizes deal with the problem. It contains specific requirements that any measures will be proportionate, not create barriers to legitimate traders and not encourage anti-competitive behaviour.

It does not overrule any of the existing directives on e-commerce or copyright in the information society, in particular, the articles upholding the right to private copying and on fair use.

It is not targeted at the online world.

Action can only be taken following a decision by a judge or competent court in response to a justified and proportionate request by a claimant.

There is no question of the directive providing for dawn raids by police on teenagers downloading music in their home.

It is unfortunate that this proposal has been treated with such hysteria by many in the online world. It does not reflect well on their ability to look at the facts and make a balanced judgement.

We particularly resent the personal attacks on our French colleague Janelly Fourtou MEP, who in successfully steering it through the parliament's work on the directive, has behaved with complete integrity and openness throughout.

We are confident that this directive will be targeted correctly and will make a difference.

But the European Parliament will be monitoring it carefully to ensure that it is effective and that its provisions are not abused.

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