In only its second cabinet meeting after taking power Dec. 22, Spain's brand new right-leaning government has enacted a law intended to deal a severe blow to digital piracy by allowing the courts to close or block websites accused of profiting
from the illegal downloading of copyrighted content.
Spain is reportedly responsible for 20% of the global illegal downloads of the top 10 films from 2010.
The so-called Sinde Law---named after outgoing Culture Minister A'ngeles Gonzalez-Sinde---was actually passed by the Spanish Parliament in February, but former Prime Minister Jose' Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government didn't enact the
regulations so it was never implemented.
The new center-right government wasted no time in enacting the law, however, passing after having been in office for less than a week.
The law, which, according to news reports, gives websites ten days to close down their sites after a government committee identifies reports of violations and gains backing from a judge on a case by case basis, went into effect immediately
upon its approval by the new government.
According to more than 100 leaked diplomatic cables, the reason that Spain passed such a strict anti-piracy law was because the United States government made strong threats against the country. The cables were part of a recent WikiLeaks release.
Many have long suspected that the United States government has been interfering in other countries' copyright legislation, and these new cables certainly prove critics' points.
The leaked cables showed that the US had a hand in drafting the new Spanish copyright legislation and influenced decisions of the outgoing and incoming government. According to the new leaked documents, the U.S. voiced its anger at outgoing
Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero last month when they realized that his government was unlikely to pass the US-drafted Sinde law before leaving office.
After becoming known as somewhat of a haven for both file-sharing sites and their users, Spain is preparing to crack down on breaches of intellectual property rights. In a blueprint published by the government, sites said to infringe copyright on
a large-scale face fines of up to 300,000 euros and having their payment processors and advertisers removed. P2P downloads will also be outlawed by limiting the right to private copy.
In January 2012 it was revealed that the United States, tired with Spain's apparent lack of protection for intellectual property, had threatened to put the European country on a trade blacklist.
During a press conference Culture Minister Jose' Ignacio Wert said that the reforms have three objectives.
The first is to ensure that content rights management entities operate with greater transparency than they did in the past, with fines being levied if irregularities are found.
The second objective is to crack down on those who facilitate large-scale downloading of movies, music, TV shows and other cultural content.
Finally there is to be a review of the right to make private copies, for which rightsholders are currently compensated through a levy on blank media.
Sites will be required to remove wide ranges of infringing content on request, such as that from a particular rightsholder or artist, without having to deal with each instance individually as is the case today. Failure to comply will be costly,
with penalties of up to 300,000 euros ($388,400) for sites that repeatedly fail to remove illicit content.
Culture Minister Wert went on to clarify that search engines such as Google, that may unwittingly link to content but comply with takedown requests, would be exempt.
Further augmenting the tools available, the draft sees the Copyright Commission being empowered to force companies to remove their advertising from illicit sites. In line with moves already underway in the United States and elsewhere in Europe,
payment processors will also be forced to withdraw their services.
Currently Internet users aren't prosecuted since their downloads are covered by a levy on blank media, but the draft envisions these freedoms being removed -- and then some. The reforms see the right to private copying only covering legally
obtained media, meaning that in theory file-sharers could be prosecuted for their downloads from unauthorized sources.
From previously being exceptionally lenient on those publishing links to copyrighted files without permission, Spain is now well on its way to cracking down on the problem. Amendments to the country's penal code have been approved means that
admins of sites offering links to copyrighted works without the owners' permission could face jail sentences of up to six years.
Spain has long been a thorn in the side of United States-based entertainment companies. In January 2012 it was revealed that the United States had threatened to put Spain on a trade blacklist but just months later the country responded by
introduced the so-called Sinde Law which was designed to offer greater protections for copyright holders. However, even though the legislation included provisions to close infringing sites, there was clearly no appetite to do so.
Now, a year-and-a-half on, Spain is having another go at appeasing the United States. The Government-approved amendments to the penal code target owners and administrators of file-sharing sites that link to content hosted elsewhere. Previously
these types of sites remained within the law provided they didn't profit directly from a file-sharing transaction. Under the new amendments, those making even indirect profit from an infringement (such as via advertising) now face jail sentences
of up to six years.
But while the government has signaled a crack down in one area, it insists that flexibility will remain in others, particularly against basic search engines and regular users. In no case will we act against regular users, neutral search
engines, or against P2P programs that allow the sharing of content, Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon said.
Now that the Cabinet has approved the amendments they will head over to parliament for debate. Only time will tell if the government will really follow through with its threats.