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Civil liberties and consumer rights groups are calling on MEPs to reject the EU Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive.

Today (3 March) is the last day that amendments can be tabled before the final debate and vote, from 8-11 March.

IP Justice, an international coalition of civil liberties groups and consumer rights activists, is organising a protest in Strasbourg to "uphold traditional civil liberties against the over-zealous enforcement of intellectual property rights". The meeting will be held outside the EU Parliament on 8 March between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

The bill was introduced to make it easier to tackle large scale pirating operations, and to create a consistent, pan-European approach to intellectual property law. But many groups, including Campaign for an Open Digital Environment (CODE) and the EFF, are concerned about the way the bill has been rushed through the European Parliament.

The directive's Rapporteur, French MEP Janelly Fourtou, (who, incidentally, is wife of the head of Vivendi Universal) has placed it on a "First Reading". This is usually reserved for directives on which there is already unanimous agreement, and does not allow for public debate. This meant the directive could be drafted behind closed doors.

Civil rights groups want the proposal sent into a second reading, where its provisions can be publicly considered.

According to the BSA, 25 per cent of software in use in the UK is illegal. It claims that reducing this to 15 per cent would generate an extra £2.5bn in tax revenues and 40,000 jobs in the IT sector. It points out that organised crime gangs have moved into software piracy on a large scale, and argues that tough legislation is needed to stop this.

Few people would seriously oppose a law that would tackle these problems, and make it easier for industry to go after real criminals: the organised crime gangs, the people selling sub-standard software, or pirating thousands of videos.

However, this directive fails to distinguish between commercial counterfeiting, and inadvertent individual copyright infringement. This means a 12-year old P2P file sharer, or someone photocopying pages from a library text book at university, is seen as identical to a large scale piracy operation filtering money into organised crime.

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure UK (FFII-UK) proposed a set of amendments that it says would reduce the directive's harm to consumers, including limiting its scope to commercial cases.

As it stands, this directive grants some very scary powers to rights holders. Consider the Anton Piller orders: these enable rights holders to hire private police to raid a suspect’s home.

This was previously restricted to very rare, large commercial infringers. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) points out that now, anyone who infringes copyright – even unwittingly – may have his or her “assets seized, bank account frozen and home invaded”.

The bill creates a new "Right of Information" that allows rights holders to obtain personal information on P2P file sharers. An ISP’s servers can be seized and destroyed with no hearing if one of their customers is alleged to have infringed a copyright.

It fails to define the term ‘intellectual property rights’, so interpretation will vary hugely from country to country when/if the directive becomes law, undermining one of the main objectives of the legislation: harmonising EU law.

Neither the Business Software Alliance, nor the British Phonographic Industry was able to provide any comment on the implications of this directive for consumers before we went to press. ®

Related links

IP Justice
Electronic Freedom Foundation

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