How Spain’s version of SOPA is setting the web on fire

Piracy, it's a crime - by flickr user Stephen Dann

Piracy, it's a crime - by flickr user Stephen DannWhile American technology companies battle against the SOPA antipiracy bill, on the other side of the Atlantic the game is changing fast. It’s been a long time coming, but Spanish legislators have finally signed the country’s so-called “Sinde Law,” which targets online file sharers.

And like any action in the controversial area of intellectual property, it is drawing both support and plenty of jeers, depending on where you look.

The law is named after its sponsor, former Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, and it creates a new government body that can take action against websites it deems to be trading in pirated content. Like SOPA, the Sinde Law can force ISPs to block sites, although the extent of the enforcement will only be seen once it comes into effect in March.

The law has been a hot political topic for the past two years, causing much anger among the public and consternation across the political spectrum. But José Ignacio Wert, the current culture minister and the man who was in charge of pushing the law through, has remained defiant and likened the action against piracy to the war on drugs, since the government only intends to target traffickers and not consumers.

Sinde “acts only against those who plunder the intellectual property rights of authors,” he said, “and not against individual users.”

For the most part, the media reaction has been focused on the horse race to get the law passed, especially after former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s recent admission that he put the passing of the law on hold to avoid “irritating the internet.”

This statement caused a diplomatic kerfuffle of its own, with the American ambassador in Madrid’s issuing a letter saying the U.S. government had “deep concern” over the delay and threatening to downgrade Spain in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s rankings.

As El País reports, the December letter accuses the Spanish government of breaching an agreement with Washington:

The Government of Spain made commitments to the rights owners and to the U.S. Government. Spain can not afford to see their credibility questioned on this issue. Rampant Internet piracy hurts the economy of Spain and cultural industries.

It seems those threats worked, though it has left some accusing the Spanish authorities of cravenly bowing to the wishes of the White House.

Elsewhere, some outlets reported the concern of ordinary Internet users who felt as if they would end up being the target of legal action. Some individuals are trying to organize a boycott of individuals and groups that supported the Sinde Law, while El Periódico said the final approval had “set the Internet on fire.”

It repeated the words of one leading Spanish blogger, who fears that Sinde could let the government act against the interests of the public (something that has particular cultural pertinence given Spain’s political history):

One of the voices was contrary to the rule of the teacher and blogger Enrique Dans, who said that Spain is “a country in which a government committee may close any site that it wants.”

La Vanguardia even went as far as linking to an online instruction manual on how to disobey the law.

In the end, quite how Sinde will play out is unknown. Spain has had an interesting relationship with copyright laws over the years: while politicians and the entertainment industries have tried to push infringement to the front of the agenda, the nation’s courts have largely proven sympathetic to private and noncommercial copying.

But with Sinde now just the latest in a series of legislative crackdowns across Europe — France’s Hadopi law and Britain’s Digital Economy Act both try to tackle similar issues — it seems SOPA may be getting the support it needs, even if it has to go overseas to find it.

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