Europe’s love-hate relationship with anti-piracy laws

While America’s online industries continue to deal with the specter of SOPA — a series of laws that rights-holders champion but technologists say are “poorly defined” and risky — things are a little different in Europe.

At the highest level, it seems that European officials are trying to enshrine network neutrality and adopt a pro-technology position. Earlier this year commissioner Neelie Kroes said ‘open internet principles’ should be followed. And last week Derrick detailed how the European Court of Justice struck down a Belgian ruling that would have forced ISPs to monitor data.

As he pointed out, the difference between the U.S. and Europe seems stark:

If you’re for due process, freedom of speech and Internet freedom as opposed to forcing ISPs to play traffic police, it’s easy to see where U.S. policy regarding intellectual property on the web is flawed. While Hollywood is smiling, everyone else is cringing. The EU seems to understand the appropriate balance between enabling the Internet and enforcing copyright on it.

But while it is true that there is a concerted effort in Brussels to find a sensible way forward, the reality is that the picture is much, much more complicated — not least because of Europe’s fractured federation. And some news over the last few days underlined that.

Take, for example, the French Hadopi law — a controversial three strikes system to block those who download unauthorized content from the internet.

Today the organization that enforces the law has announced that it will commission a study of the economics of illegal content sites. The goal, says Electron Libre is “to have reliable data on income from these services”.

Making decisions based on good data is laudable — yet you can only wonder why Hadopi doesn’t already have this data available.

Meanwhile in Spain, there is the controversial anti-piracy bill known as the “Sinde Law”.

It has been in process for some time, but last week a string of reports emerged about its future. Why? Because it’s currently stuck in a game of political football, between the outgoing leftwing Socialist Party government and the incoming rightwing Popular Party.

According to the Hollywood Reporter:

The law, which enables a judge to order a website offering illegal content shutdown within 10 days upon the recommendation of an administrative committee, has the support of the Popular Party, though it is widely disliked by Internet users and consumer rights groups.

General consensus with analysts suggests the Socialist Party decided to pass the measure and its public relations headache to the next government and let them take the heat.

This Spanish-language report from El Pais goes into some of the political detail, but the bottom line is that it looks set to make it into the statute books very soon.

None of this is simple, and just goes to show that however much effort goes in at the federal level, at the national level in Europe, the debate is far from over.