Industry group attacks EU plans to overhaul copyright enforcement law

ISPs could be forced to filter content, warns an electronic-communications industry group

By Jennifer Baker, IDG News Service |  IT Management

Organizations representing Europe's electronic-communications industry on Friday urged the European Commission not to change the directive on the civil enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRED).

Cable Europe, ECTA, ETNO and EuroISPA together represent fixed and mobile telecoms operators, ISPs and cable companies. The group warned that "introducing stricter enforcement through increasingly restrictive technical measures" would have "a chilling effect" on innovation, consumers' confidence in digital products, freedom of communications and Internet openness.

The group is particularly worried that under a revision of the IPRED directive, ISPs "may be ordered to implement unspecified, disproportionate and possibly repressive technical measures in a blanket fashion against their customers."

The directive was passed in March 2004, but the Commission is now considering an overhaul and recently closed a public consultation to identify where changes may need to be made. However, the group said it is too soon to assess the impact of the IPRED directive as, according to the Commission's own report, "due to late transposition of the directive in many member states, experience in applying the directive is limited."

The consultation on IPRED, which closed March 30, has proved controversial. Many civil liberties activists believe the questions were biased in favor of copyright holders.

"This is the worst such consultation I have ever seen. The questions are badly worded and it's only too easy to tick a box that causes you to miss dozens of important questions. This flows from the totally biased way the consultation has been framed: it's clearly aimed at holders of intellectual monopolies who want to enforce them more strongly," wrote Glyn Moody on his technology blog.

Monica Horten, visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, agreed. "All of the questions are addressed to rights-holders and ask only for their viewpoint. There is no place for non-rights-holders, who could be ISPs, to write a response," she said in an online opinion piece.

This may well be the reason the electronic-communications industry group decided to write its own appeal to the Commission. In it, the group warned that filtering copyrighted material may be "incompatible with fundamental laws of privacy around data protection."

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that filtering systems installed for the prevention of copyright infringements are disproportionate, and the industry group also questioned whether such filtering methods are even effective, given that such measures can be quickly and easily circumvented.

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