Current Copyright Piracy Legislations across Europe

Abstract

Today, the internet has transformed the way people communicate using novel tools such as video sharing sites, blogs and social networks. The current growth of e-commerce is entirely dependent on internet as business organizations are able to reach more consumers at relatively low cost. However, online services face serious threats from copyright infringement especially on intellectual properties. Music, books and videos on digital formats are downloaded without prior consent from right holders. Many countries in Europe have enacted laws to fight the crime. The European Union is currently collaborating with countries such as U.S and Japan to address the problem. Given that internet is a global online platform, all countries must enact legislations to curb online crime and ensure right holders benefit from their works.

The current Copyright Piracy Legislations across Europe

Internet provides a reasonably priced, open and easy means of sharing ideas and information around the globe. However, the advent of internet has led to increased cases of online copyright crime. This paper will evaluate initiatives adopted in Europe to mitigate online crime. A comparison will be made between measures implemented in Europe and other countries. In addition, the discussion will highlight impact copyright laws on torrent trackers and companies such as book, newspaper and music. Finally, an analysis will be made on how search engines affect copyright and current efforts by European Union to mitigate online piracy in the region.

Current Copyright Piracy Legislation in France

Some countries in Europe have enacted laws to fight copyright piracy. For example, the Creation and Internet Bill, passed by the French Assembly in 2009 seek to cut off internet users caught downloading content illegally (BBC News 2009). The bill was created following proposals by the global music industry for the enactment of tough anti-piracy legislations to help combat online copyright crime.

The bill functions under a three-stage model. First, a new government agency sends a caution e-mail to unlawful file-sharers then follows it with a letter and finally suspends their internet link for a period of one year if they failed to heed warnings. Despite opposition from some quarters, the new law has been supported by both record and film industries. Some members of the Socialist Party have warned that the new bill is dangerous, inefficient and is synonymous to state surveillance (BBC News 2009). The United Kingdom has also followed suit to help prevent online copyright crime. Some of the measures adopted will be discussed in the following section

Copyright Piracy Legislation in United Kingdom

The House of Common passed the Digital Economy Bill in April 2010. The bill, which seeks to curtail online piracy, includes key policies that aim to motivate digital economy in United Kingdom. According to Barnet (2010), the new Bill proposes suspension of internet connections for file shares. It also allows politicians to obstruct pirate websites without principal legislations. It includes special amendment that will permit the Secretary of State for Business to obstruct internet sites that are most likely to be used for activities that constitute copyright infringement (Barnet 2010).

The Digital Economy Bill has attracted a mixture of responses from both the electorate and political parties in the country. The Bill has been opposed strongly with over 19,500 voters requesting their parliamentary representatives to lobby against processing it in its current form (Barnet 2010). However, the government succeeded in passing it during its third reading despite spirited opposition from some lawmakers across the political divide (Barnet 2010). However, internet copyright laws remain ineffective in some Europe countries. The next section will discuss this assertion with respect to Finland.

Copyright Piracy Legislation in Finland

Finland does not have effective internet copyright laws. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Finland are forbidden from checking the identity behind vibrant Internet Protocol (IP) numbers in the event of an online infringement done by one of their client (Marttila 2006, p. 2). Usually, a mere notice from right holder and conveyed by the ISP is all that is done to impede infringement (Marttila 2006, p. 2). As a result, right holders are compelled to rely on civil court applications to address the matter. Many organizations are affected by online infringement in Finland.

For instance, Gramex is a copyright society that offers licenses to online services for its members, mostly musicians and record producers (Marttila 2006, p. 1). However, the organization affected by piracy in form of unlawful internet radios. In general, online piracy is critically hindering development of legal online-based music industry. The local Copyright Information and Anti-Piracy Centre (CIAPC) in Finland, which Gramex Finland is a member, approximates that there are over 149,000 active file shares in the country (Marttila 2006, p. 4). Considering the fact that over 49% of music purchased in Finland market is local content, the enormous online infringement is prohibiting ability of music industry to invest financial resources in novel talent (Marttila 2006, p. 4).

Lack of efficient and educative ways to curb online piracy is a major problem at the moment. Consequently, CIAPC is engaged in educational campaigns in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Finnish National Board of Education to create awareness of the adverse effects of online infringement (Marttila 2006, p. 4).  However, the problem is not confined to Finland and Europe alone. The following section evaluates how United States and Chile are tackling the problem.

Copyright Piracy Legislation in United States and Chile

The transformation of internet over years has enabled more people employ novel technologies such as blogs, video sharing sites and social networks (Facebook) to express their viewpoints. Some repressive governments have adopted control measures seeking to limit internet usage by its citizen. These include sophisticated surveillance and censorship of internet users. The U.S has introduced legislations that promote security for online users in despotic countries. For example, Global Online Freedom Act of 2009 (GOFA) (H.R. 2271) allows U.S. companies selling online technologies to safeguard internet users from copyright infringement in these countries (Figliola et al 2010, p. 6). Online copyright infringement is not only confined to individual hackers.

In January this year, Google threatened to cease its operations in China claiming that the Chinese government attacked its corporate network and Gmail service. Chinese hackers seem to have targeted intellectual property of the company and information regarding weapon systems in U.S. While on a visit in China in 2009, the U.S president articulated his support of uncensored internet access. In addition, the U.S is currently considering the revival of Global Internet Freedom Taskforce (GITF) to fight online copyright piracy in repressive countries (Figliola et al 2010, p. 12). More concrete counter-measures are on the way.

For example, the U.S Congress carried out a hearing in March 2010 in response to the Chinese cyber attacks on Google Company in December 2009 (Figliola et al 2010, p. 17). Congress intents to transform Cyberspace Policy in order to advance not only online freedom in oppressive regimes but also to address global cyber security concerns. In addition, the formation of House Global Internet Freedom Caucus in March this year and the Senate Judiciary Committee on Human Rights and the Law are some of the efforts put in place to address issues related to online piracy around the world (Figliola et al 2010, p. 17). Not all countries have been successful in fighting cyber crime.

Copyright industries in Chile for instance are sceptical about government efforts to address inadequate legal reforms and high incidences of online piracy in the country. Internet piracy is currently the main impediment to the development of digital economy. Chile was the first country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with United States. The pact included a clause that provided for the enactment of copyright laws between the two countries. However, deadline for implementing the clause is over and Chile has not enforced any copyright laws (IIPA 2010, p.1).

Consequently, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) has urged Chile to promptly enact online copyrights legislations to fight internet crime. In response, the government initiated legislative process in 2009 to amend its copyright regulations (law No.17336). The new legislation was a deliberate effort to abide by the Free Trade Agreements on crucial issues such as exceptions to copyright and provisions related to limited liability for Internet Service Providers (IIPA 2010, p.1). However, the legislative process has been sluggish and  results disappointing on several vital issues.

For example, the Internet Service Providers Limited Liability Provision (Chapter III, article 85-L to 85-U) demands that Internet Service Providers must posses effective knowledge of internet copyright crime in order to delete infringing content. The law also demands a judicial notice from a court of law to provide such level of knowledge to Internet Service Providers (IIPA 2010, p.4). This implies that notifications from rights holders’ do not constitute effective knowledge, and as a result, the law severely averts the possibilities of voluntary collaboration program between right holders and Internet Service Providers in Chile.

The changing role of the ISPs

According to Vagena (2008, p.22) the role of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is to intervene between sender and receiver of internet data. The European Legislative framework has initiated new laws that aim to redefine roles played by ISP in e-commerce. The European legislation has been lenient enough towards web host providers. The 2000/31 directive outlined conditions of ISPs liability exemption. According to article 14 and 15, service provider is legally responsible for data stored at the request of his subscribers only if it has been established that he had prior knowledge of copyright infringement and did not take actions to mitigate the illegal action (Vagena 2008, p.22).

It worth mentioning that in some countries such as France, memorandum of cooperation has been signed between ISPs and subscribers. The pacts aim to cultivate close collaboration between parties involved in preventing and repressing online piracy. Under this framework, ISPs expect to develop a system that will process and transmit an individual message to all users downloading protected work (Vagena 2008, p.22).

There are cases in which ISPs cannot be held responsible in the event of an internet infringement. For example, the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act was the first legal text that granted ‘abnotification procedures’. Under this federal law, ISPs have the opportunity of getting relieved from any liability for copyright piracy if they abide by conditions set in the law (Vagena 2008, p.22). However, roles of ISPs differ among countries. Consider the French case Tiscali Media vs. Dargaud Lombard, in which Tiscali, an ISP was held liable for copyright infringement by reproducing a comic strip to one of its site (Vagena 2008, p.22). Tiscali was thus found responsible for damages caused to the firm which held prerogative copyrights over the comic strip.

How torrent trackers are affected

The enactment of online copyright laws in Europe is expected to reduce the number of torrent trackers that propagate online piracy. Some countries in Europe such as Greece have taken steps to shut down these sites. For example, authorities in the country took down Gamato.info, a torrent tracker, accusing the site of promoting online piracy on games, books, music and movies. The site was among the most frequented site in the country with over 154,000 daily visitors. Gamato.info had over 12,800 movies, about 6400 games and 34,900 music albums (Yoskowitz 2010).

Gamato.info facilitated illegal circulation of film, music and book without prior consent from right holders. It remains a perfect example of how torrent trackers are harmful to a wide range of creative industries using internet to sell their merchandize. The Hellenic Police in Greece took swift action against owners of Gamato.info who sought to benefit from other people’s creative work (Yoskowitz 2010). The action taken against the site serves as deterrence to other torrent trackers from engaging in internet piracy in Europe. The following section looks at how internet copyright affect companies such as music, book and newspaper.

Impact of Internet copyright on book, music, film and newspaper printers companies

The demise of newspaper and book industries has been more prominent since the arrival of internet. Today, online news is free, swift and sometimes includes audio and video clips, compared to news on print medium. The emergence of web sites such as Craiglist has reduced need for pint advertising. Newspapers are now devoting more resources to writing online content as demand for print materials diminish (Faulhaber 2008).

Demand for online news has increased exponentially both in readership and news outlets. For example, the Huffington Post, an online newspaper, attracted over 3.6 million different visitors in February 2008 (Faulhaber 2008). Online and digital news are overshadowing printed newspapers and books and experts forecast that the printed form of newspaper, books and music industries will no longer exist in a decades’ time.

The effect of search engines on copyright

Prominent search engines are commercial profit making companies that generates and satisfy important markets. Although search engines play a crucial role in internet connectivity, they are habitually named defendant in online copyright breach lawsuits. As sophistication of online mass offerings develop from text and images to audio and visual formats, the role of search engines is bound to increase in scale and complexity. However, search engines sometimes violate copyrights laws as seen in numerous legal suits it face (Jeweler 2007, p.16).

For instance, in 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal made a ruling on Kelly vs. Arriba Soft Corp. The court stated  that a search engine’s internet display of protected thumbnail images was legal. Recently, law courts have considered online search engine’s caching, connecting and display of thumbnails in different contexts. For example, in Field vs. Google, the court found that Google’s system of displaying cached images did not violate the copyright content of the owners (Jeweler 2007, p.4). When put together, these cases demonstrate willingness by courts to recognize the social utility of search engines and adapting copyright law to the core functionality and purpose of internet.

EU effort to protect copyright across the region

The European plans to review copyright legislations to protect copyright owners of printed material from online piracy. For example, the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is being discussed between EU and other countries such as Mexico, U.S and Japan (Verkaik 2010). The changes will include avenues to compensate authors through a statutory license whereby a company would automatically acquire rights to scan printed materials and pay royalties to copyrights holders (White 2009). Proposed changes are expected to be submitted to European governments for approval.

            The current EU copyright laws are administered independently by all member countries making it hard for Google to get permission to digitize print material especially when copyright holders cannot be traced. However, under the proposed changes, the company will be allowed to scan books within EU copyright if rights holders agree (White 2009). The move is thus expected to bring more earning to right holders.

Conclusion

 Internet has revolutionized the way people communicate and share information in a manner never seen before. Search engines have facilitated access to any type of information by the click of a computer mouse. In addition, e-commerce has enabled many business organizations expand their market horizon beyond physical frontiers. However, new challenges have emerged that need to be addressed. Cases of online copyright piracy are common and urgent solutions are thus required.

Majority of EU countries have put in place measures to address online piracy issue. The enactment of Digital Economy Bill in United Kingdom and Creation and Internet Bill in France are some of the examples (Barnet 2010 & BBC News 2009). The U.S. has also established laws to address the problem on a global scale. Online piracy remains a major impediment to the development of e-commerce. It is thus imperative that governments collaborate to alleviate the crime and ensure maximum benefits can be reaped from internet services.

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