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EU heeds labels' complaints on piracy law

Proposed EU legislation for shutting down peer-to-peer pirates may need toughening up to meet record industry concerns, says a European government committee.

A new European Union proposal for harmonizing intellectual property law enforcement across member states has come under criticism from the first parliamentary committee to review it.

The committee has suggested that the proposal may need to be modified to better reflect the interests of the music and film industries.

The EU issued the proposal in January, with the aim of harmonizing different systems for enforcing intellectual property laws, including copyrights and patents, across member states. The proposal aims to strike a balance between the needs of rights holders and users, concentrating on the most commercially damaging infringements rather than on individuals who may be breaking the law, such as users of peer-to-peer file-trading services.

This approach hit a flat note with the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), however, which in January issued a "dismayed" statement calling for the proposed measures to be beefed up. "The (European) Commission's proposal is inadequate in view of the magnitude of the piracy problem and fails to introduce urgently needed measures to hold back the epidemic of counterfeiting," the record industry trade group stated.

The proposal is now under review by the European Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market, which recently issued the first draft of its report on the matter, arguing that the proposal's approach, as it stands, may be problematic.

Janelly Fourtou, the committee's rapporteur, included many of the record industry's arguments in the report. "The Commission considers it essential to crack down on the 'big' offenders, and the proposal accordingly focuses on infringements committed for commercial purposes or causing significant harm to right holders," she wrote, noting: "This view has been severely criticized by some industries."

Fourtou also saw as problematic the proposal's insistence that the pursuit of intellectual property pirates should not create "barriers to legitimate trade," suggesting that this appeared to be an unnecessary caution.

However, Fourtou said she would support an attempt to have the directive adopted at first reading, because of time constraints. The Legal Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Sept. 11.

But even more stringent enforcement rules in the EU may have little real impact on large-scale piracy, since the culprits largely reside outside the region, according to legal experts.

Still, copyright holders feel they must do anything they can to stop what they perceive as a tidal wave of cheap copying technology, according to Michael Horn, a lawyer with Masons.

"The majority of these publishers and distributors feel like they're potentially fighting a losing battle," he said. "They may want to try to ramp up legislation to such an extent to have as many weapons in their arsenal as possible. They will attack any way they can, even if it involves pushing through relatively draconian legislation."

ZDNet UK's Matthew Broersma reported from London.