MEPs wave through IP rights enforcement

Hunting season opens in two years

The European Parliament has passed the IP Rights Enforcement Directive, unchanged from its mid February draft.

It includes none of the amendments proposed by civil liberties and consumer rights groups, and sets the scene for a European version of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The directive will become EU law in two days, and member states have two years to draft and pass legislation based on its framework.

The announcement on the European Parliament's website refers to a "compromise agreement" with the Council, and says that the directive's full force need not be applied to individuals copying music files for their own use.

Although this sounds promising, the key phrase is: "need not be". Robin Gross, director of IP Justice, a US-based campaigning group, says there is no justification for such as statement.

"The scope of the directive, laid out in plain English in Article 2, remains unchanged," she says. This means file-sharers remain the same in the eyes of this law as large scale commercial pirates.

She also argues that references to a compromise are extremely misleading. In fact, the "compromise" is an earlier agreement between Parliament and the Council of Ministers, says Gross. The original draft had called for criminal sanctions. This was dropped by Janelly Fourtou, the MEP responsible for the directive, to get the bill passed before the European elections on 13 June. Her husband is the CEO of Vivendi Universal.

Gross continues: "Madame Fourtou, the Rapporteur who has been ramming this directive through the process, will personally be enriched by through her family ties to (one of the) world's largest entertainment companies, which (could) now use these new enforcement procedures to harrass and extort consumers for non-commercial and other minor infringements."

Her concerns about Fourtou were echoed during the debate. UK Scottish National Party MEP Sir Neil MacCormick, who sits on the JURI committtee, it was inappropriate for Fourtou to be pushing this bill through, because she stood to gain so much personally from its passing.

Some 330 MEPs voted in favour of the bill and 151 against, with 39 abstentions, so the bill will become law.

A statement on the European Parliament's website said the directive will help to combat counterfeiting and piracy in the single market, a problem which affects software, toys, CDs and even pharmaceuticals.

According to IP Justice, it also means European civil liberties and consumer rights have taken a serious knock, and file-sharers are on borrowed time. ®

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