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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 March, 2004, 17:44 GMT
EU backs tighter rules on piracy
CD burner
A similar US law has led to lawsuits against pop-swappers
The European Parliament has passed an anti-piracy law, covering everything from handbags to music downloads.

Under the law, counterfeiters could face civil penalties, but proposals for criminal sanctions were dropped.

Before the vote, critics said the law was flawed as it applied the same penalties to both professional counterfeiters and consumers.

But a late amendment limited them to organised counterfeiters and not people downloading music at home.

Property price

The final vote on the EU Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive took place in the European Parliament on 9 March. The directive was passed by 330 votes to 151.

The law was drawn up to target professional pirates, criminals and counterfeiters who make copies of goods such as football shirts or CDs.

During the debates, the directive was widened to cover any infringement of intellectual property.

The directive allows companies to raid homes, seize property and ask courts to freeze bank accounts to protect trademarks or intellectual property they believe are being abused or stolen.

Door knocker, Eyewire
Music firms might come knocking if you are swapping pop
Civil liberty and lobby groups feared that the music industry will also use the law to mount raids on the homes of people who swap songs via file-sharing systems such as Kazaa.

The Enforcement directive was compared to the controversial US Digital Millennium Copyright Act by Andreas Dietl, director of EU Affairs for the European Digital Rights (EDRi) lobby group.

The Recording Industry Association of America has used the DMCA to bring lawsuits against file-swappers in the US and EDRi fears the same could now happen in European countries.

The European law was shepherded through the European Parliament by MEP Janelly Fourtou, wife of Jean-Rene Fourtou who is boss of media giant Vivendi Universal.

But late amendments added to the law limited who intellectual property owners could take action against and what penalties they could apply.

One amendment said action should not be taken against consumers who download music "in good faith" for their own use.

Proposals to jail counterfeiters were also dropped from the act.

Lobbyists fear that the law could threaten press freedom in countries, such as Spain, which include confidential information in definitions of intellectual property.

In November, the EU copyright directive came into force in the UK which put many things people are used to doing with music, such as copying tracks to an MP3 player, fell into a legal grey area.

EU ministers are expected to sign off on the new rules against counterfeiting by the end of the week.

Member states would then have 18 months to implement their own versions of the directive.

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