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

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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.

4 Responses to “How Spain’s version of SOPA is setting the web on fire”

  1. The problem with the Sinde Law for law abiding citizens is that it is not a judge who decides which pages are to be closed, but a special commission that may act whenever damage could be done (no reference to copyright infringements). This is worrisome in so many levels that is actually scary.

  2. Nobody here in Spain like that law.It’s clearly done to content US authorities,but our courts declared file-sharing legal,so disobedience is gonna be general.

  3. The main problem with the so called “Sinde Law” is that it will never work as intended. Contrary to common beliefs, Spain is a fairly “normal” country, and downloads are as widespread as in any other country. We Spaniards are fairly normal in that regard. The only difference with, let’s say, the US, is that the authorized offerings for music and movies are nowhere to be found: Netflix, Hulu, etc. are not available in Spain, so users resource to P2P and to torrent sites because there’s basically no other options available at a reasonable price and with a decent catalogue (the sites offered by the industry are totally crappy).

    The second extremely important factor is the relationship between the industry and the users. In Spain, the industry has been insulting its users on a constant basis, calling them “pirates”, “thieves”, etc. and putting pressure on the Government to obtain a more strict legislation. Despite that pressure, the judges have been ruling in favor of the users: just like it happens in Switzerland and the Netherlands, non commercial downloads are not considered illegal, so the industry has been losing every single case that has been tried so far.

    Seeing that, the last movement from the industry has been this “Sinde Law”: a law that takes tose cases out of the judges’ control, and appoints a commission that depends on the Government to study and make decisions upon those cases. If you are a copyright holder and think that any page on the internet either infringes your rights or causes you any sort of damage, you can go to that commission and ask for the closure of that page. The page has to defend itself in less than five days, and the judges don’t participate in the process, so you can find your page closed in less than five days with no due process and almost no opportunity to even say anything at all or to appoint a lawyer to defend you. There are no sanctions for false demands, so you can basically sue any page you want, get it closed, but if there are arguments against that closure, the owners will have to go to the ordinary justice (which usually takes about two years just to get the case tried).

    The Sinde Law is a way to get the judges excluded, a way to go against due process, and makes possible every single abuse you can think of. The way it is designed, it allows for censorhip, state control or even to “control” new startups that could compete with the established industry. It is, in essence, an aberration.