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EU Lawmakers Pass Bill to Crack Down on Piracy

March 10, 2004|From Associated Press

Over the objections of consumer groups, the European Parliament passed a bill Tuesday to crack down on piracy of products ranging from soccer shirts to digital media.

Rejecting claims that recording companies could use the measure to harass Internet file sharers, the European Union assembly, meeting in Strasbourg, France, used fast-track procedures to approve the bill 330 to 151, with 39 abstentions.

EU ministers are expected to sign off on the new rules within weeks. Member EU governments will then have two years to write them into national law.

Under the bill, convicted counterfeiters could face civil penalties, including seizure of property and bank accounts. Specific penalty amounts were replaced by language calling for damages "proportionate and sufficiently deterrent."

Lawmakers also dropped proposed criminal sanctions sought by the recording industry and the EU's head office, although individual countries are free to add them.

Despite safeguards in the bill, consumer groups complained that it still could create problems for people who download music at home for private use.

The bill gives intellectual property holders, with court approval, the power to seize goods and freeze bank accounts before suspects can mount a defense. Although the provision is designed to prevent evidence destruction, critics worry that it could be abused.

Jim Murray of the BEUC, a European consumer organization, said the rules would "give industry a weapon to intimidate consumers in their own home."

EU lawmakers and officials insisted, however, that consumers would be well-protected.

Parliament approved an amendment that said the measures "need be applied only for breaches committed on a commercial scale" and not to consumers "acting in good faith."

"Contrary to the hysteria, there is no question of dawn raids on teenagers in their homes," said British Socialist Arlene McCarthy.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said the aim was "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."

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