US Removes Switzerland From ‘Pirate WatchList’

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The US Trade Representative has taken Switzerland off its annual pirate "Watch List." The removal is the direct result of the country's revised copyright law which introduced a "stay down" policy for infringing content and allows rightsholders to track pirates. Downloading pirated movies and music for personal use remains legal, but the US has seen sufficient progress, for now.

Every year the US Trade Representative publishes a new update of its Special 301 Report, highlighting countries that fail to live up to U.S copyright protection standards.

The annual overview is meant to urge foreign governments to improve policy and legislation in favor of US copyright holders.

This process has been an effective diplomatic tool and helped to kickstart copyright reforms around the globe. This was also the goal when the US added Switzerland to the Special 301 Watch List in 2016.

At the time, the US explained that it had decided to add Switzerland because of its lacking copyright protection and enforcement measures. Particularly problematic was the so-called Logistep decision, where the Supreme Court banned copyright holders from harvesting the IP addresses of file-sharers due to privacy concerns.

The Swiss Government was not deaf to these complaints. Over the past years, it worked hard on an updated version of its copyright law which went into effect this April. As requested, this also addresses the piracy tracking ban.

Under Switzerland’s revised copyright law, copyright holders are now allowed to process personal data, including IP-addresses, to prosecute alleged copyright infringers.

In addition, the new legislation also requires Internet services to remove infringing content from their platforms and prevent that same content from reappearing. Failure to comply will result in prosecution. This ‘stay down’ requirement aims to make it harder for rogue websites to host their services in Switzerland.

Earlier this year the Swiss Government sent an update on its progress to the USTR, urging the US to take the country off its piracy Watch List. While copyright holders argued that this would come too soon, the USTR honored the request, as became apparent a few days ago.

“Switzerland is removed from the Watch List due to long-awaited amendments to the Swiss Copyright Act,” the USTR writes in its latest 301 Report. “The amendments address specific difficulties in its system of online copyright protection and enforcement.”

The USTR notes that this is an important step forward. At the same time, however, it cautions Switzerland that the US will continue to monitor the European country for other potential copyright hurdles.

“This is an important step after many years of engagement, and the United States will carefully monitor the implementation, interpretation, and effectiveness of the newly enacted legislation,” the USTR writes, mentioning that some concerns remain.

Indeed, while the USTR ‘rewarded’ Switzerland for its progress, several copyright holder groups believe its removal from the list has come too soon. They asked for ISP blocking of pirate sites but the Swiss Government rejected the proposal after it failed to get enough support in Parliament.

In addition, downloading and streaming copyright-infringing movies and music for personal use will also remain unpunished in Switzerland. Copyright holders hoped that this would change, but it was not addressed in the amended copyright law.

The USTR says that it will keep an eye on these issues but for now Switzerland has been removed from the Watch List. The same is also true for Greece, Costa Rica and Jamaica, which all made considerable progress according to the US.

The same can’t be said for a host of other countries, including Canada. While the US and Canada signed a new trade agreement, the USTR remains “deeply troubled” about the policy of its northern neighbor, especially the education exception in its copyright law

A copy of the USTR’s full 2020 Special 301 Report is available here (pdf)

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