Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 17:42 UK

Europe votes on anti-piracy laws

Eiffel tower, BBC
France is about to enact laws that penalise persistent file-sharers

Europeans suspected of putting movies and music on file-sharing networks could be thrown off the web under proposals before Brussels.

The powers are in a raft of laws that aim to harmonise the regulations governing Europe's telecom markets.

Other amendments added to the packet of laws allow governments to decide which software can be used on the web.

Campaigners say the laws trample on personal privacy and turn net suppliers into copyright enforcers.

Piracy plan

MEPs are due to vote on the so-called Telecom Packet on 7 July. The core proposals in the packet were drawn up to help European telecoms firms cope with the rapid pace of change in the industry.

Technological and industry changes that did not respect borders had highlighted the limitations of Europe's current approach which sees national governments oversee their telecoms markets.

"The current fragmentation hinders investment and is detrimental to consumers and operators," says the EU document laying out the proposals.

But, say digital rights campaigners, anti-piracy lobbyists have hijacked the telecoms laws and tabled amendments that turn dry proposals on industry reform into an assault on the freedom of net users.

...Skype or even Firefox might be declared illegal in Europe if they are not certified by an administrative authority
Benjamin Henrion, FFII
Among the amendments are calls to enact a Europe-wide "three strikes" law. This would see users banned from the web if they fail to heed three warnings that they are suspected of putting copyrighted works on file-sharing networks.

In addition it bestows powers on governments to decide which programs can be "lawfully" used on the internet.

A coalition of European digital rights groups have banded together to galvanise opposition.

"[The amendments] pave the way for the monitoring and filtering of the internet by private companies, exceptional courts and Orwellian technical measures," said Christophe Espern, co-founder of French rights group La Quadrature du Net (Squaring the Net) in a statement.

The UK's Open Rights Group said the laws would be "disproportionate and ineffective".

The Foundation for a Free Internet Infrastructure (FFII) warned that if the amendments were accepted they would create a "Soviet internet" on which only software and services approved by governments would be allowed to run.

"Tomorrow, popular software applications like Skype or even Firefox might be declared illegal in Europe if they are not certified by an administrative authority," warned Benjamin Henrion, FFII representative in Brussels, in a statement.

"This is compromising the whole open development of the internet as we know it today," he said.

MEP Malcolm Harbour, rapporteur for users rights and the e-privacy directive who has helped oversee the Telecoms Package, challenged the rights groups view of the amendments.

"The intention of the directive is nothing like direction they are claiming," he said.

The reforms to the package would likely improve rights for consumers, he said adding that there was no mention of specific anti-piracy measures in the Package.

It is not clear yet whether the amendments will be accepted in full. In April 2008 European politicians voted against similar proposals that would have seen suspected file-sharers thrown off the net.

Susan Hall, media partner at solicitors Cobbetts LLP said: "The amendment will cause several problems, firstly, many broadband users routinely transfer large files which are encrypted.

"Many of these are acting quite legitimately and in order to determine whether or not such large files are or are not the produce of illicit file sharing the ISP will have to carry out an unprecedented degree of analysis of its customers' traffic. "Furthermore, computers are frequently shared - within offices, within homes, within educational institutions and inadvertently, where wrong-doers "piggy back" on an inadequately secured Wi-Fi connection.

"All this raises the spectre of people losing internet access - for reasons which are no fault of their own."

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04 Apr 08 |  Technology
Europe rejects anti-piracy plans
11 Apr 08 |  Technology
Anti file-sharing laws considered
24 Oct 07 |  Technology
France unveils anti-piracy plan
23 Nov 07 |  Technology
ISPs could face piracy sanctions
22 Feb 08 |  Technology

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