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Swedish antipiracy law stirs up political waters

In a country with a strong tradition of peer-to-peer networks, a new law requiring some ISPs to hand over data on alleged pirates is a hot-button issue.

File swappers in Sweden, land of the world's largest bittorrent sharing site, The Pirate Bay, are facing a tougher future.

The so-called IPRED law, scheduled to go into effect Wednesday, will in some instances require Internet service providers to reveal subscribers' Internet Protocol addresses to copyright holders--including the film, music, and game industries--that charge users with illegal file sharing.

The Swedish law stipulates that property rights holders can take their grievances to a court, which will examine the evidence, including the extent of the file sharing, and decide whether the IP address will be released. The copyright holder then can send a warning letter to the ISP subscriber, and eventually file a civil case against the alleged pirate if the violation doesn't stop.

The law takes effect just as a copyright infringement case against The Pirate Bay draws to a conclusion. The verdict in that trial, due to be announced April 17, will not be affected by the new law, since only file sharing done after Wednesday will be taken into account. In response to the new law, however, The Pirate Bay site recently launched IPREDator, a new paid service that lets users download "more anonymously." The service costs 5 euros a month.

CNET has contacted The Pirate Bay for comment, but has not yet heard back.

In the United States, major ISPs including AT&T and Comcast have recently begun working with the Recording Industry Association of America to target people suspected of pirating music. The steps involved could include suspension or termination of service for repeat offenders, in a determination made by the Internet provider.

In Sweden, a country with one of the highest rates of Internet use in the world and a strong tradition of peer-to-peer networks, the IPRED law is proving to be a political hot button.

Citizens in general, and young men in particular, oppose IPRED in large numbers, according to a recent survey for Swedish national newspaper SvD.

For its part, the Antipiracy Agency, an organization formed by the film and game industries to fight Internet piracy in Sweden, is happy about the new law, which was passed by a large majority of the Swedish parliament on February 25.

"Of course we'll use the law," Henrik Ponten, a lawyer for at the Antipiracy Agency told Swedish news agency TT. "We have not acted to get the law and then not use it."

But in a sign of just how sensitive the law is, the center party in Sweden's ruling right alliance, which formulated the law, publicly debated its stricter aspects, a stance likely taken to appease a key voting demographic--young people for whom file sharing is one of the biggest political concerns. The leading party in the opposing left alliance party, the Social Democrats, did the same, even though it too voted for the law.

A country of file sharers
The once notorious file-sharing software Kazaa, the established peer-to-peer telephony software Skype, and similar offerings originated in Sweden. An estimated 1 out of 10 Swedes engage in file-sharing practices. File sharing is such a big issue in the Northern European country, in fact, that elected politicians write op-eds on emerging technologies for mainstream news outlets.

And the Pirate Party--which was formed in 2006 to reform copyright law and protect citizens' rights to privacy--after only three years has the one of the largest numbers of members among the youth wings of the country's political parties.

The numbers related to IPRED bear that out. According to the survey by the newspaper SvD (article in Swedish), 79 percent of men ages 15 to 29 oppose IPRED. Only 32 percent of those polled support the law, while 48 percent say they oppose it adamantly.

The law, based on the European antipiracy directive Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive, is supposed to focus on file sharers who upload material and those who download a considerable numbers of files. Where the line will be drawn is not yet clear.

Technically, it has also been questioned whether one can link the downloading of a certain file to a specific person. For instance, if a computer is shared in a family or the subscriber has been surfing with a wireless router, a pirate could be using that connection to download files illegally.

The Left and Green parties in Sweden, which are in political opposition to the ruling right-wing alliance, voted against the law. They say it threatens democracy and personal integrity, since it gives large companies too much power to act as police and collect sensitive personal data.

Whether the law has an effect remains to be seen. According to the survey in the newspaper SvD, only one out of four people who answered that they were sharing files said they would stop once the new legislation is in place.