The European Parliament has approved a controversial piracy law that would allow local police to raid the homes and offices of suspected intellectual-property pirates, search their financial records and even freeze suspects’ bank accounts, Wired News reported.
The European Union’s directive covers selling everything from pirated CDs and counterfeit toys to fake Chanel and Viagra. Organizations that suspect their intellectual property has been violated can obtain search-and-seizure orders and injunctions.
Various industry groups had pushed for a tougher directive that would have included the threat of criminal sanctions. Consumer-rights groups such as the European Consumers’ Organization charged that the law was overly broad and would re-create the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in Europe.
As passed, the measure includes civil and administrative penalties for commercial piracy. Criminal penalties were dropped. Individual member countries are still free, however, to punish intellectual-property theft with criminal sanctions.
Spain and Poland — one an EU member, one about to be — make the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s list of the top 10 countries with piracy problems, which also includes Russia, Mexico and China.
The directive now goes to the Council of Ministers, which is expected to approve it by April. The debate then shifts to the member states, which technically have 18 months to implement the directive, though observers say twice that long would be likely.
One sticking point is: What constitutes commercial piracy? Gwen Hinze, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in the current directive, “even though there were some limitations built into various enforcement provisions to make them apply to only commercial piracy, what’s commercial” isn’t defined. It’s important that members states build in strong procedural safeguards for their citizens.”
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimates worldwide music piracy totaled $4.6 billion in 2002, with one in three CDs sold being counterfeit.
Industry groups say they will continue to push for criminal sanctions against intellectual-property thieves at the national level.