Italy’s SOPA Ranked Most Important IP Legislation of 2013

A new framework for handling online copyright infringement set for a 2014 launch in Italy has been named the most-important IP legislation of 2013 by an industry-respected copyright blog. IP Kitten says the SOPA-like regulation, which will allow an administrative body to block and take down websites without any court process, is likely to be looked at in fear by other member states. Today TorrentFreak speaks with lawyer Fulvio Sarzana to see what all the controversy is about.

Italy has often been accused of not doing enough to combat copyright infringement but if things go to plan for the copyright lobby, 2014 will be a very interesting one indeed.

Earlier this year AGCOM, Italy’s independent Electronic Communications Authority, drafted new regulations that would allow it to order a domain seizure or ISP blockade of any site that fails to remove infringing content in a timely manner. The process, which has just been voted in by the regulator and will begin in April, has a couple of controversial tricks up its sleeve.

Unlike similar bodies in almost every Western country, AGCOM can not only order this kind of action without obtaining a court order, but obtained its powers to do so through an administrative process that wasn’t heard in Parliament. The scale and nature of the regulation has piqued the interest of IP Kitten, an industry-respected copyright blog that has declared it the most important piece of copyright-related legislation of 2013.

“Probably the most important piece of legislation is not really a law, but rather a regulation: the Regulation on Online Copyright Enforcement by AGCOM,” IP Kitten writes.

“It is important because for the first time in Italy an administrative authority (as is AGCOM) has vested itself with powers (to grant injunctions) which traditionally have fallen within the competence of courts. Overall, the Italian experiment is not only likely to be looked at with either interest or fear by other Member States, but also inform debate around forthcoming review of the InfoSoc and Enforcement Directives.”

Fulvio Sarzana, a lawyer with the Sarzana and Partners law firm, has worked with many sites to lift blocking orders under existing Italian law. He is concerned by the new regulations and how they came to pass.

“AGCOM will order removal without any kind of judicial review. ISPs, consumers, libertarians and experts have vigorously contested AGCOM’s proposal because it could affect freedom of speech as well as business rights. In particular, they challenge the modality whereby the Italian regulator would supervise and tackle copyright infringements on the Internet by way of orders of removal and blocking,” Sarzana told TorrentFreak.

Dissent is also being heard from those in power, both locally and further afield, the lawyer says.

“Various members of the Italian Parliament (including the president of the Chamber Laura Boldrini) have questioned the competence of AGCOM in regulating this matter and observed that only the legislator, not the regulator, should fix limits and guarantees of civil freedoms. The Foreign Affairs Minister Emma Bonino has also criticized the regulator’s initiative,” Sarzana adds, noting that the regulation has also attracted the UN’s attention.

“While visiting Italy to report on the state of freedom of expression in the country, Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, expressed his reservations against the new regulatory framework. La Rue, echoing the words of Italian academics and civil libertarians, noted that ‘all norms regulating constitutional rights, in particular freedom of expression, should be approved by the Parliament’,” he concludes.

The new regulations come into force in April so we won’t have to wait too long to see what the system produces and whether rightsholders decide to take full advantage. At this point that seems very likely indeed.

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