ETNO join list of new anti-piracy law critics

Europe’s 40 largest fixed line telecommunications operators have warned that a proposed law on intellectual property enforcement dubbed the anti-piracy directive, will hamper the rollout of broadband services if worded too broadly.

In a statement issued by their Brussels-based trade group, the European telecommunications network operators association (ETNO), the former state phone companies said an amendment being proposed in the European Parliament would stretch the reach of the proposed European Union law too far.

Janelly Fourtou, the European Parliament member charged with shepherding the draft law through the Parliament, has suggested an amendment removing the words “for commercial purposes” from the original text published by the European Commission. If amended in this manner, the law, if passed, would allow prosecution of private individuals as well companies for copyright-infringing activities including illegal swapping of music files.

“Amendments to expand the directive’s scope would make its measures applicable to any and all infringement of IPR, regardless of intent, purpose or harm caused,” said Michael Bartholomew, ETNO’s director.

“This could have important consequences for the sector and the consumer if random, trivial or innocent acts are pursued with the full weight of this proposed rigorous enforcement system,” he said.

Peer-to-peer file sharing shows there is great demand for content on the Internet, Bartholomew said, adding that “Industry should respond by offering attractive business models that match this demand, and not by seeking to sue or prosecute customers.”

If Fourtou’s amendment is adopted as law it would “hamper broadband’s development,” ETNO said.

ETNO’s warning is not the first caution the proposed anti-piracy directive has provoked.

Last month some of Europe’s most eminent intellectual property law professors said the draft law is too far reaching. “Instead of relating only to piracy and counterfeiting, the draft is couched in more general terms,” the academics said. They questioned whether there is a need for such a law, and if there is, whether the text proposed by the commission is proportional to the problem it seeks to address.

“It is vitally important that this directive strikes the right balance between protecting the interests of rightholders without unfairly impeding others from competing in the same market,” said Tim Frain, director of intellectual property at the Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia Corp.

Fourtou defended her attempt to broaden the scope of the directive to include people who illegally swap music over the Internet during a recent interview.

“Even if you aren’t downloading music for profit, you still are having a very negative effect on authors and musicians,” she said. “Even a young boy who does it innocently causes an economic counter-effect.

“The Internet is a new way of living for young people. It would be very good to send out a message to them, teach them right from wrong. If we don’t put up a barrier then everything will be grey,” she said.

By seeking to include file sharers within the scope of the proposal, Fourtou has been criticized for promoting the interests of her husband, Jean-Rene Fourtou, the chief executive of Vivendi Universal SA, owner of the biggest recording company in the world, Universal Music Group Inc.

Fourtou was put in charge of the debate on the proposal in March. Her husband was appointed chief executive officer of Vivendi in July of last year.

She claimed her family does not hold a vested interest in the amendment she supports and thought her situation would not prove problematic during the debate.

“My conscience doesn’t have a problem with this,” she added.