Posts tagged SOPAStyle
Last week, the Spanish government enacted a law containing provisions that allows copyright holders to have allegedly-infringing websites shut down within days of a complaint. The legislation, which sounds like a more extreme version of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) being debating in the U.S., had actually already been passed, but wasn’t implemented until Spain’s new, notably more conservative government took control.
The Sustainable Economy Law, which contains the anti-piracy provisions, was enacted in part to help encourage investment by U.S.-based media and technology companies. Today it was revealed that American interest in the law being enacted may have been more than casual. Spain was actually threatened by the US with being put on a trade blacklist if the law wasn’t passed, according to cables released by WikiLeaks.
In addition to the WikiLeaks cables, Spanish newspaper El Pais obtained a letter from the U.S. ambassador to Spain expressing “deep concern” over the country’s failure to enact the law and suggesting that economic punishment may be in order.
The revelations confirm what many had suspected about the extent of U.S. involvement in encouraging the legislation. It also says a thing or two about the influence of the media industry and its lobbyists, which apparently goes well beyond domestic initiatives like SOPA itself.
Last month, as the administration of Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was on its way out of office, the U.S. Ambassador evidently ramped up pressure on the government to enact the anti-piracy law, which was crafted with help from the U.S. government. The Zapatero government declined to cave in to the pressure, but Spain’s newly sworn-in administration made it a top priority and officially made it law last Friday.
In the letter, which was also sent to Minister of Culture Ángeles González-Sinde after whom the law is named, Solomont noted that Spain is already on the Special 301, the annual report prepared by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) detailing ‘trade barriers’ based on intellectual property issues.
Solomont’s threat was that should Spain not pass the Sinde Law (described by some as the Spanish SOPA) then the country would be degraded further and placed on the Priority Watch List. This serious step would mean that Spain was in breach of trade agreements and could be subjected to a range of “retaliatory actions”.
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Just as SOPA opponents in the United States prepare for round two in their battle against far-reaching anti-piracy legislation, it appears that their Spanish counterparts just lost theirs. On Friday, the Spanish government approved the Sustainable Economy Law, (SEL) which enables rights holders to have infringing websites shut down within 10 days after a complaint is filed.
Once a complaint is made, a judge can order ISPs to block access to sites that host copyrighted material or have them shut down entirely. The law, which was officially passed early last year but never implemented, was approved by Spain’s new, more conservative government last week and will now be enacted as planned, much to the delight of the film and music industries, as well as other media companies.
If the law sounds like a more extreme version of SOPA, it probably has something to do with the fact that Spain has a much bigger piracy problem than the United States. Illegal file-sharing runs rampant in the country and it seems like every media industry trade group has a different set of statistics demonstrating how harmful this has been to them.
Under the new law, copyright complaints will be heard by a panel called the Intellectual Property Committee who will decide how to rectify the issue and are endowed with the power to go after site owners.
In the U.S., the anti-piracy legislation currently being debating in Congress would be limited to websites hosted outside the country’s borders and wouldn’t be quite as far-reaching as Spain’s new law. Still, to many the passage of SOPA’s Spanish counterpart feels like a taste of things to come should big media companies in the U.S. succeed in getting some version of SOPA or the Protect IP Act passed by the U.S. Congress.
Paving the Way For U.S. Investments
Pressure from Spanish copyright holders and media companies wasn’t the only factor in ensuring this law was passed. The country stands to see major investments in online streaming services there now that the law is enacted. U.S. media and technology companies, among others, have been waiting to make such investments until more serious steps were taken against file-sharing and online piracy in Spain. The passage of this law is exactly what they were waiting for. The country is already awaiting the launch of Nextflix within its borders early this year, and presumably more services will follow.
The law may lead to more legitimate online streaming services and delight the media industry, but that doesn’t assuage the concerns of digital rights groups, who take issue with SEL along lines similar to those of opponents to SOPA and PIPA in the United States. In short, they argue that granting media companies and judges the ability to shut down websites sets a very bad precedent and could easily be used to censor legitimate sites.
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