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View Full Version : European law proposed to protect copyrights and patents

2003-10-20, 16:17

BRUSSELS, Oct. 19 - In an effort to fight product counterfeiting and piracy, the European Union is preparing to enact a sweeping intellectual property law that critics say is ill-conceived and tilted heavily in favor of copyright and patent holders.

The proposal would go far beyond existing laws in Europe and the United States by classifying copyright violations and patent infringements, even some unwitting ones, as crimes punishable by prison terms.

Lawyers who have studied a draft of the proposed law say that not only could a teenager who downloaded a music file be sent to jail under it; so too could managers of the Internet service provider that the teenager happened to use, whether they knew what the teenager was doing or not.

The proposed law would also make it easier for drug manufacturers to forestall generic competition by effectively stretching the duration of their patents, the critics say, and even the makers of replacement auto parts could face prosecution if they sell their wares to consumers.

Backers of the proposed law, which would replace a patchwork of regulations in the union's 15 member countries, include influential European Union officials like Frits Bolkestein, the union's commissioner for internal markets, whose department drafted the proposed law, and Janelly Fourtou, the French member of the European Parliament who is in charge of leading the debate on it.

Greg Perry, director general of the European Generic Medicines Association, said the proposed law would give the big drug companies "the best tool they could have ever wished for" to fight off generics.

By forcing makers of generic drugs to win court permission to bring their versions to market, the big patented-drug makers "could use this proposed law to extend their monopoly by stretching their patent a further 18 months or so beyond its expiry date," Mr. Perry said. "We agree that patents should be respected, but we can't support what would end up allowing for an abuse of the legal system to prevent legitimate competition."

While she is willing to narrow the proposed law to exclude patents, Ms. Fourtou is trying to expand its reach over copyrights, and in doing so she has drawn some criticism for a perceived conflict of interest.

The commission's original draft limited criminal penalties to those who violate copyrights "for commercial purposes" - language that would exclude consumers swapping music files.

But Ms. Fourtou has struck that limitation from the amended text of the proposed law. "In this sense, the scope of the directive is too narrow," she said. "Even if you aren't downloading music for profit, you still are having a very negative effect on authors and musicians. Even a young boy who does it innocently causes an economic countereffect.

"The Internet is a new way of living for young people," she continued. "It would be very good to send out a message to them, teach them right from wrong."

One of the world's largest record companies is owned by Vivendi Universal, a French conglomerate whose chief executive is Ms. Fourtou's husband, Jean-René Fourtou.

Ms. Fourtou said that when she was given charge of the proposed law in March, neither she nor her colleagues in Parliament saw her husband's job as a reason for her to recuse herself. "There was a plenary session of the Parliament in July last year," when Mr. Fourtou took the post at Vivendi, she said. "My colleagues all saw his name and his photo in the newspapers. It was not a problem for them. My conscience doesn't have a problem with this."
It is refreshing to see a law proposed which will serve the forces of greed. Not only will thieving pirates who are downloading mp3s and stealing from the poor starving artists be taught right from wrong, but this will as well force the lazy poor people to buy good quality stuff rather than the cheap generics. It teaches them a lesson and builds character, that the good things in life must be earned, and if one wants to have health care then he ought to be willing to work eighty hours a week on minimum wage jobs to be able to afford it.