Spain to Crackdown on Pirate Sites and Outlaw File-Sharing

After becoming known as somewhat of a haven for both file-sharing sites and their users, Spain is preparing to crack down on breaches of intellectual property rights. In a blueprint published by the government today, sites said to infringe copyright on a large-scale face fines of up to 300,000 euros and having their payment processors and advertisers removed. P2P downloads will also be outlawed by limiting the right to private copy.

spain-flagIn January 2012 it was revealed that the United States, tired with Spain’s apparent lack of protection for intellectual property, had threatened to put the European country on a trade blacklist.

Four months later Spain introduced the so-called Sinde Law which was designed to offer greater protections for rightsholders. It included a provision to close infringing sites but to date that has never been used.

“More than ever, websites providing or linking to illegal content can be secure in the knowledge that takedown measures are nonexistent and result in no consequences,” the international Intellectual Property Alliance complained last year.

However, all that could be about to change. Today the Spanish Government unveiled its plans for amendments to its copyright law that will excite copyright holders eager for protection. During a press conference Culture Minister José Ignacio Wert said that the reforms have three objectives.

The first, with a nod to the SGAE scandal in 2011, is to ensure that content rights management entities operate with “greater transparency” than they did in the past, with fines being levied if irregularities are found.

The second objective is to crack down on those who facilitate “large-scale” downloading of movies, music, TV shows and other cultural content.

Finally there is to be a review of the right to make private copies, for which rightsholders are currently compensated through a levy on blank media. As we will see, objectives two and three are linked.

In respect of piracy, the reforms aim to boost the powers of the Comisión de Propiedad Intelectual (Copyright Commission). The draft, known as ‘Lassalle Law’ after Secretary of State for Culture Jose Maria Lassalle, envisions the Commission obtaining new power to deal with infringement.

Sites will be required to remove wide ranges of infringing content on request, such as that from a particular rightsholder or artist, without having to deal with each instance individually as is the case today. Failure to comply will be costly, with penalties of up to 300,000 euros ($388,400) for sites that repeatedly fail to remove illicit content.

“This is about putting in measures to prevent recurrence,” said Culture Minister Wert, who went on to clarify that search engines such as Google, that may unwittingly link to content but comply with takedown requests, would be exempt.

Further augmenting the tools available, the draft sees the Commission being empowered to force companies to remove their advertising from illicit sites. In line with moves already underway in the United States and elsewhere in Europe, payment processors will also be forced to withdraw their services.

Finally, the amendments to the right to make private copies will be of real interest to users of file-sharing networks such as BitTorrent and eD2K. Currently Internet users aren’t prosecuted since their downloads are covered by a levy on blank media, but the draft envisions these freedoms being removed – and then some.

The reforms see the right to private copying only covering legally obtained media, meaning that in theory file-sharers could be prosecuted for their downloads from unauthorized sources. But that’s not all. Even though the blank media levy will be removed, compensation will still be paid to rightsholders. However, in future it will be the general Spanish tax-payer footing the bill, rather than just those doing the copying.

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