File-Sharers Protected Under Proposed EU Legislation

European Internet users accused of illicit file-sharing will not be disconnected on the whims of the entertainment industries. After an all night session European Union lawmakers agreed on a compromise text. Those accused will be entitled to a "fair and impartial" procedure, which will include the right to be heard.

Last night a committee comprised of EU government representatives, Members of the European Parliament and the European Commission settled their differences, which will now lead to a vote on acceptance of the controversial EU Telecoms Reform Package, aimed at boosting competition.

With a vote of 407 in favor, 57 against, with 171 abstentions, EU lawmakers sent the package back to the Council in May, due to concerns that Internet users would not have their rights sufficiently protected.

After all night negotiations the deadlock was broken after a compromise agreement was reached. Internet users in all 27 EU states will be entitled to be put through a “fair and impartial procedure” (although what that means exactly is far from clear), including the right to be heard in response to allegations before being subjected to the ultimate sanction – disconnection.

Christian Engström of The Pirate Party helped to shape the modified text that was accepted in a unanimous vote last night.

“The Telecoms Reform Package neither demands nor prohibits the implementation of three-strikes legislation to disconnect alleged file-sharers by member states,” Engström told TorrentFreak, adding that if they do implement such measures, they will have to be within the parameters of the directive.

As reported by Engström, the exact text reads:

3a. Measures taken by Member States regarding end-users’ access to or use of services and applications through electronic communications networks shall respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and general principles of Community law.

Any of these measures regarding end-user’s access to or use of services and applications through electronic communications networks liable to restrict those fundamental rights or freedoms may only be imposed if they are appropriate, proportionate and necessary within a democratic society, and their implementation shall be subject to adequate procedural safeguards in conformity with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and with general principles of Community law, including effective judicial protection and due process.

Accordingly, these measures may only be taken with due respect for the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. A prior fair and impartial procedure shall be guaranteed, including the right to be heard of the person or persons concerned, subject to the need for appropriate conditions and procedural arrangements in duly substantiated cases of urgency in conformity with European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The right to an effective and timely judicial review shall be guaranteed.

Engström said the vote for the text was a positive surprise as he thought this agreement would never happen. Although in an ideal world it is not everything he could have hoped for, it is a big step in the right direction.

“We would never have been able to achieve this without all the work that the community of net activists has put in,” he further notes. “We have shown that ordinary citizens working together can make a difference. And this is only the beginning. The Internet community has begun to flex its muscles.”

Engström told TorrentFreak that although he is happy with the outcome, there are still many battles to be fought. “Nobody should be disconnected from the Internet in an open and free society,” he said.

The European Parliament and Council is due to make a decision on the Telecoms Reform Package in late November, with the laws coming into force early 2010. Member countries will then have 18 months to pass the legislation into their own national laws.

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