EU Assembly Passes New Piracy Rules

Rhett Pardon
STRASBOURG, France -- The European Union Parliament passed a bill Tuesday that is intended to sharply reduce piracy of digital media products.

The EU assembly, over objections of consumer groups, rejected claims that major record labels could use the law to harass Internet file-sharers in their own homes.

Meeting in Strasbourg, France, the assembly used fast-track procedures to approve the piece of legislation, 330 to 151 with 39 abstentions. EU ministers are expected to sign off on the new rules by the end of the month. Member governments would then have two years to write them into national law.

The far-reaching legislation gives intellectual property holders, with court approval, the power to seize property and freeze bank accounts before suspects can mount a defense.

Estimating that piracy costs the EU’s economy nearly $10 billion a year, legislators said the aim of the bill is to seek out the largest infringers.

The EU is “keeping the emphasis on catching the ‘big fish’ rather than the ‘tiddlers’ who commit relatively harmless acts like downloading a couple of tracks off the Internet for their own use,” EU Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein told other assembly members.

British Socialist Arlene McCarthy was skeptical on who gets to decide when a computer meets the threshold of commercial use.

“Contrary to the hysteria, there is no questions of dawn raids on teenagers in their homes,” McCarthy told the Associated Press.

In the U.S., the major record labels have in the last nine months defended their intellectual property in the courts, suing more than 1,500 people they identified as having made copyrighted music available for download on file-sharing services.

While the Recording Industry Association of America said the trade association has settled less than 400 of the cases, none have gone to trial. Last month it widened its scope by pursuing 531 file sharers.

Usage of free-downloading services such as Kazaa and Grokster have risen as CD sales have declined worldwide, and now many in the music industry are willing to consider a more open stance to technology such as Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes and Roxio Inc.’s Napster, where both sell 99-cent song downloads.