EU Parliament Warns Against ISP Monitoring In Music Piracy Fight

This could put the cat amongst the pigeons. European Parliament members have voted in favour of outlawing the kind of ISP disconnection policy the French government introduced to fight illegal music downloads. French socialist Guy Bono’s proposed bill on safeguarding cultural products, drafted in September, had made clear: “Criminalising consumers so as to combat digital piracy is not the right solution” – but the music industry had lobbied to introduce an amend calling for ISP-level filtering.

The report was voted for by a large majority yesterday – but with a counter-amendment, adopted 314 to 297, calling on the European Commission and individual countries to “avoid adopting measures conflicting with civil liberties and human rights … such as the interruption of internet access“.

President Sarkozy introduced the three-strikes policy last year under a new settlement with content owners and ISPs, drawn up by Fnac retail chain president Denis Olivennes. The UK government has warned UK ISPs they face similar legislation in April ’09 if they do not agree a voluntary alternative, leaving the IFPI to foist on them the notion they should warn, then disconnect customers at its behest. A jubilant Bono wrote the industry request was “inconsistent with civil liberties”, especially as France gears up to host the EU presidency.

Bono: “The repressive measures are measures dictated by industries that have been unable to change their business models to meet the needs imposed by the information society. Switching off internet access is a powerful sanction which could have profound repercussions in a society where access to the internet is a mandatory law for social inclusion.”

He also took the opportunity to criticise earlier EC approval for the Sony-BMG merger, arguing: “It is not the 13 percent of people who illegally download of cultural content that threatens our culture, but the concentration of our culture in the hands of a few major groups that undermine our diversity.”

The question now – to what extent will the EU executive or national governments heed the amended bill? After all, the commission, not the parliament, is the law-making body. Several countries have begun to follow France’s lead. This could be the policy that undoes the music industry’s best chance to fight piracy – or it could be just another piece of pro-consumer European paperwork. In any case, the commission itself is already investigating measures in its Creative Content Online In The Single Market process.