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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2004, 09:05 GMT
Anti-piracy law 'stifles innovation'
The EU anti-piracy law continues to court controversy as Neil MacCormick MEP (Scottish National Party) responds to British MEPs Malcolm Harbour (Conservative) and Arlene McCarthy (Labour), arguing that the new directive could stifle innovation.

There is no doubt that the EU should take action against counterfeiting and piracy. People who own intellectual property rights ought to be able to rely on the law when their interests are, in effect, stolen by criminal outfits.

Whiskey on supermarket shelf
Whiskey distillers at risk of counterfeiting
My colleagues Malcolm Harbour and Arlene McCarthy wrote on BBC News Online of counterfeit Viagra, Head and Shoulders and contraceptives. I can add yet more examples to their list.

In the constituency which I represent, traditional industries such as whisky distilling, shortbread baking and knitwear production are always under threat from counterfeiters. My constituents know well the threats which these criminals can bring to jobs and businesses.

While it's true that a teenager doesn't have to fear his bank account being seized, it's not true to say that he can't have his CD collection seized.
Neil MacCromick, MEP
However, valid questions must be raised as to whether all the measures passed last week in the European Parliament are the correct ones, or whether some of them may bring unintended but serious consequences.

CD collection

Malcolm and Arlene argue that the EU directive has always been intended to tackle professional, commercial scale counterfeiting. Maybe so. It's just a pity that the final version which they voted for last week doesn't fully achieve that restriction.

The Commission's original proposal stated that the directive was targeted towards serious infringements of intellectual property - to those operating for "commercial purposes". This key element was however removed by the European Parliament.

In the text which was finally adopted, "commercial scale" requirements only apply to certain sections of the directive. So, while it's true that a teenager doesn't have to fear his bank account being seized, it's not true to say that he can't have his CD collection seized.

It's also true that any such seizures would have to be justified and proportionate. However, quite what this means is in the hands of judges across the EU. Wouldn't it have been safer if the directive (in its entirety) was aimed solely at commercial pirates?

Besides, the section which defines what is meant by "commercial scale" says that this would "normally" exclude consumers. No clue is given however as to the abnormal situations where consumers could conceivably be targeted!.

Software industry concern

Another area of concern is the inclusion of patents in the scope of the directive. Patent law is much more complicated than other areas of IP law and much more open to abuse.

Legitimate companies who produce cheaper versions of medicines, for example, fear that the multinational drugs conglomerates will use this to stop the production of derivative medicines, so called 'generic medicines'.

CD on a keyboard
Software innovation could be stifled
Concerns also abound in the free software community - referred to in the BBC News Online article as "imaginative lobbyists".

This community is indeed imaginative - it's their imagination that they use in their innovations and which allows them to thrive and survive and make a large contribution to our economy.

Again, it's a pity that the new European directive may severely inhibit this innovation - in the sole interests of the multinationals.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in last week's European Parliament vote is that it was an opportunity lost. In an effort to rush through legislation before this June's elections we have ended up with a flawed directive.

Malcolm Harbour and Arlene McCarthy are right to say that the directive will be monitored and reviewed in due course. It's a great shame that so many people stand to suffer in the meantime in ways irrelevant to stamping out piracy and counterfeiting.


SEE ALSO:
Tackling the property pirates
11 Mar 04  |  Technology
EU backs tighter rules on piracy
09 Mar 04  |  Technology
UK song-swappers 'could be sued'
15 Jan 04  |  Entertainment
CD singles to go 'in three years'
15 Jan 04  |  Entertainment
Why that mix CD might be illegal
10 Nov 03  |  Technology
Stopping the pop-swappers
04 Aug 03  |  Technology


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