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EU counter attacks entertainment piracy

The European Union mounted on Tuesday an offensive against online music and film piracy, with plans to rewrite intellectual property law across the EU market of half a billion consumers.

Registered cases of counterfeiting and product piracy at the borders of the 27-state single market rocketed between 2005 and 2009, the latest period for which the European Commission gave figures, logging more than 43,000 infringements.

Officials say piracy has cost the European music, movie, TV and software industries 10 billion euros ($14 billion) and more than 185,000 jobs in 2008 - but consumers the world over now expect easy online access to cheap entertainment through a variety of delivery models.

The EU executive says it will target the problem "at source," going by plans drawn up for Financial Services Commissioner Michel Barnier and taxation counterpart Algirdas Semeta, and seek action by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Just in 2009, EU customs intercepted 40,000 suspect shipments involving 118 million items - but tracking is now causing exponential problems whether online or in millions of small postal consignments, hence the focus on the online channels to audiences.

European Commission proposals say Brussels "will identify ways to create a framework allowing, in particular, combating infringements of intellectual property rights via the Internet more effectively."

The detail says amendments to existing legislation "should have as their objective tackling the infringements at their source and, to that end, foster cooperation of intermediaries, such as ISPs."

A commission official admitted it was "too early" to say exactly what could be done.

Thierry Dieu of European telecoms operators industry association Etno warned the commission must "avoid imposing disproportionate and unjustifiable obligations on Internet access providers, such as de facto surveillance of products distributed across their networks."

He argued that the EU should concentrate instead on boosting the availability of bona fide material and "accessible" pricing models encouraging growth in these channels.

The music industry in particular is undergoing massive restructuring to reinvent distribution and revenue models, but the Internet sales platform also affects creative industries covering everything from make-up to drinks.

The commission's ambitions in this domain, likely to run into countless industry and overseas trading obstacles, also cover everything from patents and trademarks to geographical indicators for products such as Scotch whisky as well as customs issues and the digital libraries of the future.

The idea is to try and "strike the right balance" between protecting, rewarding and encouraging creativity and innovation, seen as a key element in economic growth, while "promoting the widest possible access to goods and services," the commission said.

Copyright-based creative industries were credited with delivering 3.3 percent of EU economic output in 2006, accounting for some 8.5 million jobs from the individual artist to big pharmaceutical companies.