“The United States continues to have serious concerns regarding the inability of rights holders to secure legal redress in Switzerland in cases involving copyright piracy over the Internet,” the USTR’s 2013 Special 301 report reads.
“The United States strongly encourages Switzerland to demonstrate its commitment to copyright protection and to combating online piracy vigorously, including by taking steps to ensure that rights holders can protect their rights,” it adds.
The admonishment could’ve been worse. In its submission to the USTR the International Intellectual Property Alliance recommended that Switzerland be placed on the Watch List, complaining that around 35% of Swiss Internet users access unlicensed services in any given month. But the problems don’t stop there.
“The country has become an attractive haven for services heavily engaged in infringing
activity,” IIPA said, noting that Internet companies were moving their headquarters and servers to Switzerland. “From there, they provide a global service, effectively turning Switzerland into a major exporter of pirated content.”
In addition to a file-sharing portal friendly environment, U.S. rightholders are concerned by the Swiss attitude to regular file-sharing. Even when Swiss citizens obtain content from illegal sources, downloading copyrighted material for personal use is currently completely legal.
Only a change in the law can reverse that situation and with that in mind the USTR has made it clear to Switzerland that it is monitoring the work of AGUR12, a working group responsible for identifying the possibilities that exist for adapting copyright law to technical developments.
That process includes “ensuring an appropriate remuneration for the use of copyright-protected content” – i.e the combating of piracy. Like so many similar talks in recent years including ACTA and TPP, the discussions are being held largely in secret.
Copyright lawyer Martin Steiger reports that the U.S. Government (through its Swiss Embassy) and the entertainment companies (though local anti-piracy group SAFE) are actively participating in the talks. It comes as no surprise then that the group’s proposals have gone in the direction they have.
According to a report obtained by NZZ am Sontagg, AGUR12 have concluded that Swiss Internet service providers should be forced to delete content if hosted on Swiss-based sites. Most controversially their final report, which is now being sent to the Justice Minister, states that ISPs should display warnings when users attempt to access unauthorized content sources while “obviously illegal sites” should be rendered entirely inaccessible.
After not being invited to participate in the working group, ISPs are less than impressed with its conclusions, particularly as they suggest a march towards a change in the law.
“The Justice Department [will take measures] that affect the Internet and hosting providers but have not invited them to the working group. Accordingly, useless ideas have now emerged,” says Franz Grüter, managing director of ISP Green.ch
But while ISPs in the UK are now completely accommodating when faced with a blocking request from Hollywood or the music industry, the culture in Switzerland is quite different. Grüter says that in order to block a user, ISPs will have to monitor his or her traffic, a notion he rejects.
“Internet providers would have to become Internet police that would monitor their clients. This is moving towards censorship and arises from a totalitarian approach,” he says.
The idea was also condemned by Andrej Vckovski, president of industry association Simsa.
“We reject the monitoring of Internet traffic on principle, because to have exceptions opens a dangerous door. Suddenly, it would be conceivable, for example, to filter political content,” Vckovski said.
Of course, there is a conflict of interests. Currently the working group appears to have no proposals to criminalize file-sharing for personal use, but on the other hand they foresee a situation where the sites from where those files are obtained being blocked by ISPs.
Quite what kind of warnings the working group would require on sites isn’t clear, but warning people that they are about to engage in an entirely legal activity isn’t likely to carry much of an impact, especially since there is no Netflix or similar service currently available in Switzerland.