Internet users who download music illegally face home raids

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Internet users who illegally download music face having their homes raided and properties seized under a crackdown on piracy backed yesterday by the European Parliament.

New legislation will target the illegal piracy of a host of products, including sports merchandise, designer handbags and medical products as well as music downloaded from the internet.

The initiative is aimed at criminals who counterfeit for commercial gain as part of a multibillion-pound network. However, civil rights campaigners fear that small-scale internet file sharers will also be vulnerable to the legislation. Yesterday, the European Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new anti-piracy directive. Members of the EU, including the UK Government, will have two years to incorporate the directive into national law.

The main thrust of the new bill consists of the civil penalties that will face counterfeiters of any form, who will face the seizure of their property and bank accounts if they are found guilty in a national court. An earlier proposal for criminal sanctions against those illegally counterfeiting was dropped from yesterday's final directive.

Piracy cost European businesses an estimated £5.4bn a year between 1998 and 2001, according to figures released by the EU's head office.

Up to five million British computer owners are expected legally to download 30 million songs this year. However, the industry is being threatened by the arrival of hundreds of unofficial sites enabling millions of users to download music illegally.

While the new directive proposes the targeting of those who counterfeit on a commercial rather than a personal scale, there were fears that difficulties would arise in attempting to differentiate between the two categories.

The new directive will create a single set of rules that will apply to the entire EU, including the 10 nations that join on 1 May.