European DMCA In The Works

Gretchen Gallen
UNITED KINGDOM -- The European Union (EU) is drafting copyright protection legislation that could prove far more comprehensive and chilling than the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, which in recent years has been used in dozens of lawsuits in an effort to protect copyright holders against Internet piracy. Although many critics of the U.S. DMCA feel that it gives copyright holders too much protection and in many cases stifles technological innovation.

According to reports, the European Union Directive for the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, while still in its infancy as a DMCA-copycat, has given way to vigorous debate between lawmakers, copyright holders, scientists, and artists because of its potential effect on European consumers. There is great concern that the European version of the DMCA could restrict free speech and freedom of expression.

But despite the efforts of opponents to call attention to the law's more damaging effects, the directive has moved through the EU legislative process with "unprecedented speed," says IP Justice Executive Director Robin Gross. IP Justice is an international civil liberties organization.

"Similar subpoena powers created under the U.S DMCA have allowed the recording industry to frighten and financially extort thousands of U.S. consumers for peer-to-peer file-sharing of music," said Gross. "The directive’s bloated scope will allow the recording industry to violate the rights of millions of European consumers for minor infringements."

According to Gross and her organization, the European directive was originally intended to harmonize Member States' existing enforcement laws against large-scale commercial counterfeiting. But through EU back-room deals, the directive’s scope has been extended to any infringement, including all minor, unintentional, and non-commercial infringements, such as peer-to-peer file-sharing."

Certain provisions within the proposed law would make it legal for record and media executives to raid the homes of peer-to-peer file-sharers, PC Magazine reports, and at present, more than 50 civil liberties groups are opposing the legislation that is scheduled for debate among lawmakers between March 8-11.

Critics of the directive are concerned that there is little effort to distinguish between unintentional infringers and for-profit criminal organizations. The possible outcome of the law could be that people who accidentally infringe on a copyright could have their assets seized, bank accounts frozen, and homes invaded.

"Don’t let these tactics become the latest weapons in intellectual property rights-holders' destructive war on piracy," said the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a U.S.-based civil liberties organization the has been an outspoken opponent of the legislation and has encouraged concerned Europeans to contact members of the European Parliament before the March deadline.

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure UK has proposed a set of amendments that would reduce the directive's more harmful effects on consumers by limiting its scope to commercial cases. Whether those amendments will be considered by EU legislators has not yet been determined.