The EU Parliament has controversially dropped plans to force ISPs and content owners across the continent to seek a court ruling before disconnecting suspected online piracy offenders. As EurActiv.com reports, the parliament has finally voted to abandon the contentious amendment 138 of the proposed telecom reform package, which would have ensured that disconnections can only take place with “prior ruling by the judicial authorities”.
But now the guarantee of a judicial hearing is gone, replaced with a paragraph (via laquadrature.net) that promises only a “fair and impartial procedure” prior to disconnection. That doesn’t necessarily involve a court hearing.
This looks to be end of a turbulent, technical Euro policy debate stretching well over a year…
— the 138 amendment, written by French socialist MEP Guy Bono, was first adopted by MEPs way back in September 2008
— it was removed by the Council of Ministers
— but it was then re-re-introduced by MEPs and fiercely defended by them in May.
So why the climbdown all of a sudden? Bizarrely, the parliament’s legal services department told MEPs last week that a “prior judicial ruling” system would unlawfully interfere with member states’ own legal systems — so after months of argument, debate and delay it now seems the amendment could not have been passed anyway. As EurActiv puts it: “It is still unclear why MEPs did not realise this before starting a long inter-institutional legal battle.”
Ironically, however, France has already passed its Creation Et L’Internet bill which, after an intervention from the country’s constitutional court, now guarantees accused file-sharers a court hearing before disconnection. The Hadopi agency set up to enforce the law will start sending out warnings to file-sharers as early as January (via Dailystar.com.lb) – it expects to send 50,000 warning letters and emails in its first year.
The UK government’s piracy policy, steered by business secretary Lord Mandelson, is due to be announced in a Digital Communications bill this year but culture secretary Ben Bradshaw hinted earlier this month that accused pirates in the UK would get a hearing, telling MPs that disconnection would be withheld for the very worst offenders and “wouldn’t just happen…on the basis on an accusation.”
The whole telecoms package is expected to finally be adopted early next year and includes various other non-piracy related measures such as giving the European Commission greater powers to veto member states’ regulators’ telecoms decisions and create an EU-wide regulator, BEREC.