Obama Wants Spain to Ban BitTorrent Sites

Every year the United States releases the Special 301 Report, which examines the intellectual property laws of important trading partners. One of the countries heavily criticized in the 2009 edition is Spain - largely because it views file-sharing for personal use and non-commercial BitTorrent and file-sharing sites as legal. Obama wants to change all that.

In recent months we’ve reported several times how Spanish courts have ruled that not only is personal use file-sharing legal in Spain, but file-sharing sites that do not directly profit from infringement are also protected under the law. This allowed the admins of sites like Sharemula to walk away from legal action without a scratch.

Of course, as far as the United States and its piracy watch-lists go, this is an unacceptable situation and one which needs to be changed as quickly as possible.

According to the United States, Spain has one of the worst file-sharing “problems” in the world. The US claims it is consistently among the top five worst countries in terms of overall downloads and that it regularly takes the top position for movie downloads per capita. The MPA(A), who can hardly be trusted to report unbiased stats, says movie downloads by Spanish citizens reached 350 million in 2008.

While video game publishers claim that 50 million games were downloaded illegally last year, it is the music industry that says it suffers most from file-sharing in Spain, claiming that users downloaded around 2 billion tracks in 2008, up 80% compared to 2007. This is blamed mainly on BitTorrent and eDonkey sharing, but there was also a reported increase in sharing via Rapidshare-like file-hosting sites. According to figures cited by the report, 67% of all Spanish Internet users download unauthorized content, raising to 81% in the under 24 years old group.

Of course, the Spanish authorities have taken action against various torrent and sharing sites in the past, but because of Spain’s laws, the prosecution has failed to gain any significant convictions – the admins, as in the case of Sharemula, simply walk. Under Spanish law there is no infringement and this situation, says the US, means that rights holders don’t have the weaponry to go after ‘infringers’. Obama wants to change all that.

The US charges that the Spanish government has done little “to change the widespread misperception in Spain that peer-to-peer file sharing is legal,” referring to the 2006 “decriminalization” notification from the Office of the Prosecutor-General as “problematic”.

Of course, no article on bringing in tougher restrictions on file-sharing would be complete without the obligatory calls for pirates to be disconnected, and the Special 301 Report doesn’t disappoint. The United States says that part of Spain’s “priority action” should include an agreement between ISPs and copyright holders to prevent infringing content being available on the Internet and should include “the immediate and effective implementation of graduated response [3 strikes] procedures.”

If the law doesn’t currently allow such action, the US advises Spain it should takes steps to change it, including rescinding the Chief Prosecutor’s May 2006 official instruction that effectively decriminalized file-sharing.

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