P2P lockdown plan leaves Spanish web users fuming

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The Independent Tech

Many Spanish internet users are furious over a government proposal to shut down websites offering peer-to-peer file sharing of music and films without a court order.

A meeting yesterday between their representatives and the culture minister failed to calm them down.

Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde insists the legislation - to be brought into effect in 2010 if approved by Parliament - will not target individual internet users who download material and in no case would anyone's internet connection be cut off.

Speaking after talks with 14 bloggers and website directors, Sinde said that the bill is directed against websites that illegally offer the possibility of downloading copyright-protected material.

Under the bill, an intellectual property commission would investigate complaints about websites offering the possibility of P2P downloading, and if they are deemed to be making money from other people's work they could be closed.

"It's like a shop that sells goods stolen from the manufacturer's warehouse," said Sinde.

She stressed that if the commission found that in any way the website owners' basic rights were likely to be affected by such a closure, a judge would have to handle the case.

But while industry groups see the anti-piracy proposal unveiled this week as insufficient, opponents of the bill accused the minister of playing Big Brother and trying to establish a "culture police" that would curtail civil liberties.

"The page with most links to copyright-protected content is Google. Are we going to close Google without a judicial order?" asked Victor Domingo, president of the Spanish Association of Internet Users.

Spanish National Television and Radio, whose website director Rosalia Lloret was at the meeting, said "the meeting concluded without any progress and showed the vast differences of opinion between both sides."

Hundreds of entertainment industry employees, including several musicians, staged a noisy protest outside the ministry Tuesday to demand tougher legislation.

Simultaneously, opponents posted a manifesto slamming the bill on the internet, and it was picked up by tens of thousand of websites.

"The internet must function freely and without political interference spurred by interested sectors trying to perpetuate an obsolete business model and to prevent human knowledge from continuing to be free," the manifesto said.

Downloading copyrighted material is illegal in Spain but not a criminal offence, and courts consistently throw out cases on grounds that it is an infringement only if used for commercial profit.

This stance has infuriated music companies and also the US government and that country's powerful entertainment lobby.

Spain's plans are more moderate those of some other European countries. Britain recently announced it planned to follow France's lead to cut off internet access to people who download illegally.

Spanish record label association Promusicae says the industry in Spain lost $1.6 billion (£962 million) Ain revenue in 2007 and 2008 because of piracy. Promusicae says the industry's work force has declined by 70 per cent over the last few years.