Government presents controversial file sharing bill

Published: 5 Dec 08 09:34 CET
Online: http://www.thelocal.se/16148/20081205/

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Sweden’s government on Thursday formally presented a legislative proposal for a new file sharing law designed to make it easier to hunt down people who illegally download copyrighted material.

The bill, based on the European Union's Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED), would give copyright holders the right to seek a court order requiring internet service providers to divulge the names of individuals linked to IP-addresses through which the illegal downloading occurs.

“If those who create computer games, films, or music lack the ability to be paid for their products, they won’t be able to hire the people they need so their companies can grow. The bill strengthens the prerequisites for the creative sector to grow,” said Justice Minister Beatrice Ask in a statement.

The government has been working hard in recent weeks to overcome concerns from within its ranks that the controversial measure would give the entertainment industry too much power over individuals.

On Wednesday, Moderate Party Riksdag members spent much of the day debating the measure internally in an effort to agree on changes that would assuage critics’ fears.

A compromise was eventually reached late in the day which would increase the burden of proof copyright holders must present in court before being given access to the names of individuals suspected of illegal file sharing.

Another alteration to the original bill dropped a clause which would have made the law retroactive, giving copyright holders the ability to go after cases of illegal downloading which took place before the law had come into force.

The final version of the bill, however, stipulates that the law will only apply to file sharing cases which occur after it comes into force on April 1st, 2009.

The new law would give courts a pivotal role in determining how much success the entertainment industry might have in stopping those suspected of illegal file sharing.

The bill calls for courts to decide whether copyright holders have presented sufficient evidence of harm to justify the release of personal information about individual internet subscribers.

“This means that it will be necessary to show it is a question of infringement of a certain magnitude in order for a copyright holder to receive the [personal] information,” according to a government statement.

In further explaining the measure, however, the government hinted that, in some cases, it expected courts to rule in favour of individual privacy rights if the case was involved the downloading of “a few works”.

When asked to elaborate on what constituted “few” works, however, Ask deferred to the courts.

“That’s a judgment which the court can make about what is required, the legislation can’t go into all the details,” she told the TT news agency.

While the government was able to coalesce around the proposal, the Moderate Party’s youth wing remains opposed to the new measure, saying it symbolizes a generation clash.

“It’s a really disappointing decision. They are criminalizing and hunting down a whole generation of young people,” said Niklas Wykman, head of the Moderate Party Youth Association (MUF), to the TT news agency.

“Politicians from the older generation have never gone this far before.”

While Hans Skarplöth, head of media distributor Viasat, welcomed the proposed measure, he also recognized its shortcomings.

“What’s important now is that we focus on delivering really good legal media services,” he said.

“But it’s naïve to think that the law in and of itself is going to solve the problem.”

The proposal must still be approved by a vote in the Riksdag before becoming law, and the government is counting on all of its parliamentary representatives voting in favour of the controversial measure.

However, if the opposition political parties come out against the measure, then it would only take the defection of a handful of Riksdag members from the governing Alliance to put the new file sharing law in jeopardy.

TT/David Landes (news@thelocal.se)

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