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The European Union is proposing new criminal penalties for counterfeiting and piracy in the region. Yesterday, the Commission adopted proposals for a new directive that would "align national criminal law", it said, and would make it easier for countries to cooperate in investigating and prosecuting counterfeiting and piracy operations.

According to an EU statement if an intellectual property is infringed on "a commercial scale", then criminal penalties must apply. It is not clear from what we have seen so far whether there are limits in the other direction: that is whether non-commercial infringers are classified differently, and so protected from the fullest extent of criminal prosecution.

The Commission argues that counterfeiting and piracy are so lucrative, and carry such light penalties relative to other forms of trafficking, that they are attracting investment from criminal organisations.

It says the directive is being aimed particularly at organised counterfeiters and faked goods that are dangerous to public health and safety, with minimum prison terms of four years being mandated for these offenses. Individual countries will have the option to impose harsher terms when the directive is translated into national law.

However, the proposal does apply to all types of intellectual property rights, so music downloads and software fall well within its scope.

Franco Frattini, vice president of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security, said that aligning European criminal laws on counterfeiting "forms a basic platform underpinning our joint efforts to eradicate these phenomena which are undermining the economy". ®

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