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20th Oct 2017

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European Parliament backs controversial anti-piracy report

  • Activists fear the Gallo report impinges on the freedom of the internet (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

The European Parliament on Wednesday (22 September) adopted a non-legislative report on enforcement of intellectual property rights, calling for tougher application of intellectual rights and copyright harmonisation at the EU level. Meanwhile, civil liberties activists warn that such moves would undermine fundamental freedoms in the bloc.

"Online piracy is an infringement of copyright and causes serious economic damage to artists, to creative industries and to all those whose jobs depend on these industries," Marielle Gallo, a French conservative MEP and author of the report said after 328 MEPs voted in favour of the proposal and 245 against.

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The report asks the European Commission to propose a "comprehensive strategy" on intellectual property rights "which will remove obstacles to creating a single market in the online environment" and adapt an European legislative framework in the field.

In the resolution, MEPs also said that they do not agree with the commission's view that the current civil enforcement framework in the EU is sufficiently effective and harmonised. They asked the EU executive to "address urgently" the issue of multi-territory licences and the harmonisation of legislation on copyright, which, they believe, should improve access to digital markets by overcoming geographical borders.

While Ms Gallo said the text "makes no assumptions about any penalties that should be imposed and does not foresee a European 'Hadopi' law", critics warn it creates an opportunity for measures similar to French anti-piracy legislation, named for the new government agency created to hunt down online pirates that has the power to cut off internet access after 'three strikes' and even jail repeat offenders.

"The Gallo report is an illustration of the will of the entertainment industry to try to impose private copyright police and justice of the Net," said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesman for online civil liberties pressure group La Quadrature du Net, in reaction to the parliament's decision.

In the resolution, MEPs endorse additional non-legislative measures to improve the application of intellectual rights and back the commission's 2009 opinion encouraging governments to "take advantage of possible alternatives to court proceedings for settling disputes."

"Repressive schemes such as the 'three strikes' policies and other Internet access restrictions negate fundamental rights, such as the right to a fair trial, the freedom of communication or the right to privacy," Mr Zimmerman said.

The recording industry has welcomed the parliament's decision, calling it "a clear signal" that a more coordinated approach is needed.

"This is a timely and welcome message. Piracy is a major threat to jobs in Europe and it is a direct obstacle to legitimate enterprise in the music, book, film and other sectors," said Frances Moore, CEO of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

The parliament, for its part, also rejected two alternative resolutions, one by the Greens and Socialists and another by the Liberals.

"It is ridiculous to equate private music downloading, for example, with commercial-product counterfeiting by organised criminals. We need to find new solutions that take account of the different types of intellectual property rights and reflect their impacts on consumer safety rights or health," Austrian Green MEP Eva Lichtenberger said.

The report also called on the commission to step up the pace in the negotiations over the multilateral Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a proposed global anti-piracy accord, and to ensure that the provisions of the agreement fully comply with existing EU rules on intellectual property rights.

The 11th round of the ACTA negotiations takes place in Tokyo from 23 September to 1 October, with Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the US participating.

The latest version of the agreement, which was leaked after the Washington negotiations at the beginning of September leaves out an earlier reference to a three-strikes ban.

The pact would also ensure that internet service providers not be required to monitor their subscribers for uploading illegal content.

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