Few examples of technology-related federal legislation have stirred up more controversy in recent years than the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
And now the European Union is considering a similar, yet far more sweeping act — one that could extend to virtually all kinds of intellectual property (IP) protections — which critics describe as "nuclear weapons of IP law enforcement."
A coalition of over 50 civil liberties groups is opposing draft legislation titled the European Union Directive for the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights. The draft legislation will be considered for passage into law throughout Europe by the European Plenary March 8th through 11th.
The provisions within the directive have produced scathing attacks from the civil liberties groups opposing it. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) has posted material opposing it under the title "European Union Considers Warped Intellectual Property Directive." Two specific provisions within the directive, titled "Anton Pillar Orders" and "Mareva Injunctions" call for recording industry executives to have the right to raid the homes of P2P file sharers.
"This goes far beyond the DMCA, which mainly focused on copyright protection," says Robin D. Gross, executive director of IPJustice, an international civil liberties organization. "If you make a copy of a CD and give it to your mother, there are provisions within this directive for recording industry officials to raid your house, and there are similar provisions for doing things like freezing your bank account before there is any kind of hearing."
The directive was originally intended to organize European Union member states' existing laws against large-scale commercial counterfeiting. "But through EU back-room deals, the directive's scope has been extended to any infringement — including all minor, unintentional, and non-commercial infringements such as P2P file-sharing," claims an advisory from IP Justice. The full text of the directive is available online at http://www.ipjustice.org/CODE/021604.html.
One statement within the text of the directive describes its scope: "It is necessary to define the scope of this Directive as widely as possible in order to encompass all the intellectual property rights covered by Community provisions in this field and/or by the national law of the Member State concerned."
Moving Quickly But Not So Quietly
Opposition groups are concerned that the legislation is being fast-tracked by European Union members.
"The directive's Rapporteur French MEP Madame Janelly Fourtou (who is also the wife of Vivendi-Universal's CEO) has placed it on a 'First Reading,' a rarely used fast-track procedure for uncontroversial directives where there is unanimous agreement on a subject," says IP Justice's advisory. "Wildly controversial, this directive should be forced to undergo a 'Second Reading' where its monumental provisions can be adequately debated by the public and legislators before they are imposed throughout Europe," continues the advisory.
In addition to opposition pages on the Internet from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, IP Justice has posted a page called CODE — Campaign for an Open Digital Environment (www.IPJustice.org/CODE/) — where individuals can learn more and respond to the directive.