Euro parliament rejects criminalizing file-sharing

BRUSSELS – In a non-binding vote, the European Parliament has rejected attempts to criminalize the sharing of files by private individuals as well as banning copyright abusers from the Internet.

The plenary vote last week was close, with 314 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voting in favor of an amendment to scrap what many consider draconian and disproportionate measures to protect copyright over the Internet, and 297 voting against the amendment.

“The vote shows that MEPs want to strike a balance between the interests of rights holders and those of consumers, and that big measures like cutting off Internet access shouldn’t be used,” said Malene Folke Chaucheprat, a European Parliament spokeswoman, shortly after the vote.

The report isn’t legally binding, but it could help thwart efforts by France, which has already adopted such measures, to push the issue at a European political level. France’s so-called Oliviennes strategy to combat copyright abuse includes a “three strikes and you are out” approach: offenders lose the right to an Internet account after being caught sharing copyright-protected music over the Internet for a third time.

France takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union in the second half of this year and many observers, including the U.K.-based Open Rights Group, expect it to push for E.U.-wide rules similar to its own.

The report is significant because it “signifies resistance among MEPs to measures currently being implemented in France to disconnect suspected illicit filesharers,” the Open Rights Group said in a statement.

The record industry was disappointed with the vote. “One badly drafted, rushed through amendment was adopted which is in contradiction to the rest of the text,” said Frances Moore, executive vice-president of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), in a statement.

“If the aim of the report is to protect creative content, including in the online environment, we should be looking at all options available in the fight against copyright theft. Instead, this amendment suggested discarding certain options before there is even a proper debate,” the IFPI said.

But the Open Rights Group argued that criminalizing copyright abuse by individuals eager to build their media library and not profit from copyright-protected material is draconian and inefficient at tackling illegal file sharing.

“As the European Parliament have recognized today, [the measures] are disproportionate, they lack consumer safeguards and they won’t stop illicit filesharing,” the Open Rights Group said.

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