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22nd May 2022

Reding warns Spain against internet cut-off

  • Viviane Reding has warned that internet cut-off runs counter to EU telecoms law (Photo: Sandrine Muscarella)

EU telecoms chief Viviane Reding has warned that the European Commission would take action against Spain if the government moves to cut the internet access of content pirates.

"Repression alone will certainly not solve the problem of internet piracy; it may in many ways even run counter to the rights and freedoms which are part of Europe's values since the French Revolution," information society commissioner Reding told a conference of the Spanish Telecommunications Market Commission (CMT) in Barcelona telecoms on Monday.

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"If Spain cuts off internet access without a procedure in front of a judge, it would certainly run into conflict with the European Commission," she said.

Earlier this year, France introduced new legislation that cuts off internet access to copyright scofflaws and the UK is expected to present similar legislation in the coming weeks. Spain is also understood to be looking into such measures, but the government has yet to announce any new laws.

This month, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, representing the member states, came to an agreement on a wide-reaching package of telecoms laws that included a provision that outlawed internet access cut-off without an official procedure.

Some internet civil libertarians feared at the time that the language in the agreement was still too soft to prevent such laws, but it appears the commission has taken the ball and is running with it.

"The new internet freedom provision now provides that any measures taken regarding access to and use of services and applications must always respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens," Ms Reding reminded the Spanish CMT. "Effective and timely judicial review is as much guaranteed as a prior, fair and impartial procedure, the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy."

"We need to find new, more modern and more effective ways in Europe to protect intellectual property and artistic creation.

"Repression alone will certainly not solve the problem of internet piracy; it may in many ways even run counter to the rights and freedoms which are part of Europe's values since the French Revolution."

Ms Reding said that she had been "following with interest the discussions in Spain" and warned the government not to consider measures that ran afoul of the European-level protections of the rights of internet users.

"I would like to stress the need for any possible legislative initiative to comply with the agreement reflected in the Telecoms Reform Package."

The commissioner then went on to criticise France's ‘Hadopi' law, so-called for the government agency tasked with the struggle against internet piracy. The agency first sends a warning email to a suspected pirate, then a letter in the post and then a special copyright judge orders the suspension of access.

"The case of France has shown that national constitutional law may raise even more immediate barriers," she said.

"I therefore invite the Spanish authorities to consult very closely with the European Commission before heading into a direction which could soon turn out to be a blind alley."

She argued that the development of a single European market for online content was a superior path to take to counter internet piracy, lamenting the fragmentation of copyright law across the EU.

"The lifting of impediments to the cross-border online distribution of creative works will improve the supply of attractive and affordable services that are legal. In turn, this will reduce the temptation for consumers to indulge in the illicit consumption of copyright-protected material."

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