Music & Film Industry Challenged On IP
The film and music industries have been taken to task by a new digital rights alliance who have dubbed their latest moves as "hijacking serious crime legislation in Europe" to try and undermine human rights...
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The challenge stems from a letter issued to all MEPs on 23rd November by music industry body the Creative and Media Business Alliance (CMBA), in which they lobbied to co-opt the EU Data Retention legislation currently being debated by the European Parliament.
The newly-formed UK digital rights organisation the Open Rights Group (ORG) joined with other civil liberties groups across Europe to condemn this "lobbying against human rights", and called on the Alliance's members - which include Sony BMG, Warner Music, Disney, and EMI - to retract their demands.
As ORG explain, the Data Retention draft framework was originally proposed by the UK, Sweden, Ireland and France for "the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of serious criminal offences such as terrorism and organised crime" by forcing telecommunications and internet service providers to retain 'traffic data' - information about your telephone calls and web browsing activities.
IP prosecution at the taxpayers expense?
The CMBA demanded that this data be made available for the prosecution of any crime, such as copyright infringement, and not just serious organised crime and terrorism. British MEP Bill Newton Dunn has already suggested an amendment to widen the scope of the legislation in this way. Taken with the upcoming IPRED2 legislation which creates new, Europe-wide criminal offences for intellectual property infringement, this would let the music industry pursue prosecutions through the criminal court entirely at the cost of the taxpayer.
Both the Data Retention and IPRED2 directives are being "fast-tracked" through the EU by short-circuiting normal legislative processes and allowing for only one reading in the European Parliament, instead of the normal two. According to ORG, sources from within the Parliamentary system indicate that some MEPs are unaware that the usual democratic process is being bypassed. Because of the tight timetable, MEPs will be put in the difficult position of having only a couple of days to assess the Data Retention proposal before the final vote on 13 December.
Financial burden on telcos may be passed to the consumer
"The passing of the Data Retention directive would be a disaster not just for civil liberties and human rights in Europe", said Open Rights Group director Suw Charman, "it would also put a substantial financial burden on telcos and ISPs which would be passed on to the consumer either in the form of raised bills or through government subsidies funded by the taxpayer."
If the CMBA is successful, the situation will be exacerbated by an increased number of demands for access to the retained data as more cases are to court by the music and IP industries. If British record labels set up prosecution production lines like their American counterparts, the system could crumble under the strain, hampering any reasonable and legitimate enquiries into genuine terrorist or serious crime activity.
Opponents highlight human rights implications of the proposed legal change
Civil liberties groups such as Privacy International and European Digital Rights (EDRi) have been campaigning against data retention. Ian Brown, of the Open Rights Group, said: "The British government claimed that Data Retention was essential in the fight against terrorism and serious crime, but it has now become clear that groups with commercial interests have their eye on the same data. Charles Clarke cannot continue to pretend that this legislation has been drafted purely for reasons of national security."
Gus Hosein, Senior Fellow at Privacy International, said: "The EU has been claiming that data retention was some urgent policy response to terrorist attacks. But they are carefully drafting this legislation to ensure that it can be used for all purposes under the sun. Ironically, the EU seems to be going at it alone: even the U.S. Bush Administration is not proposing such a ludicrous policy, despite the strong lobbying by Hollywood."
Sjoera Nas, Board Member of EDRi and Co-Director of Bits of Freedom, this afternoon presented a petition against Data Retention to MEPs: "Tomorrow morning there is a crucial vote on Data Retention by the LIBE Committee. We have just given a petition with 58,000 signatures to the Chairman of the Committee, and to MEPs from the Green Party, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. We hope that it will be tabled at the LIBE meeting tomorrow, to point out that 58,000 Europeans have protested against Data Retention.
"Last minute negotiations with representatives of the European Council have lead to what we feared the worst - a draconian directive that flies in the face of our recommendations. We can only hope that the European Parliament will come to its senses and realise that they cannot turn Europe into a surveillance society overnight without throwing away all human rights."
About the Open Rights Group:
The Open Rights Group is a new digital rights campaigning group based in London. It aims to increase awareness of digital rights issues, help foster grassroots activity and to preserve and extend civil liberties in the digital age. For more information, contact Suw Charman, Executive Director, Open Rights Group: www.openrightsgroup.org or email email@example.com Sjoera Nas (EDRi and Bits of Freedom): firstname.lastname@example.org or Gus Hosein (Privacy International): email@example.com