Spain has long been a thorn in the side of United States-based entertainment companies. File-sharing is somewhat of a national pastime and efforts to crack down on the activity have been met with some words and also legislation, but very little action.
In January 2012 it was revealed that the United States had threatened to put Spain on a trade blacklist but just months later the country responded by introduced the so-called Sinde Law which was designed to offer greater protections for copyright holders. However, even though the legislation included provisions to close infringing sites, there was clearly no appetite to do so.
Now, a year-and-a-half on, Spain is having another go at appeasing the United States. Under new measures approved yesterday, operators of file-sharing sites – who up until now have been able to operate fairly freely – could have to face a harsh new reality.
The Government-approved amendments to the penal code target owners and administrators of file-sharing sites that link to content hosted elsewhere. Previously these types of sites remained within the law provided they didn’t profit directly from a file-sharing transaction. Under the new amendments, those making even indirect profit from an infringement (such as via advertising) now face jail sentences of up to six years.
But while the government has signaled a crack down in one area, it insists that flexibility will remain in others, particularly against basic search engines and regular users.
“In no case will we act against regular users, neutral search engines, or against P2P programs that allow the sharing of content,” Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardón said.
The idea of going after sites and not users was welcomed by local writer Lorenza Silva.
“You can not criminalize the entire population,” he told Elpais. “But making life difficult for the biggest contributor to the problem and going after those who generate the most benefits from it is the right strategy.”
But already questions are being raised over the new amendments. To show that a file-sharing site operator has committed a crime under the law it will be necessary to show that there has been a “significant breach of intellectual property rights” but there are no clear guidelines on what that actually means.
And for Spain, a country in which it is commonplace to buy counterfeit DVDs on the streets and where youth unemployment has reached 56%, there are many who think the government has got its priorities wrong.
“To jail? We’re not going to put anyone in jail for copying a disc or links. It sounds more like a pantomime,” local rock musician Sr Chinarro told Elpais.
Now that the Cabinet has approved the amendments they will head over to parliament for debate. Only time will tell if the government will really follow through with its threats against local sites or whether the population will respond by spending more money on media in any meaningful way. While there is a chance of the former, the latter seems a distant dream.