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Spain’s anti-P2P “Sinde law”: Her Master’s Voice?

The country’s illegal downloading industry continues to confound Spanish authorities, after legislation to curb it flopped despite pressure from the United States.


Imagine the press conference in the pre-Wikileaks world of just a month ago: a journalist stands up and asks Spanish Culture Minister Ángeles González-Sinde if her government’s persistence in trying to push through a controversial anti-P2P bill making it easier to shut down websites that link to copyrighted material might have something to do with pressure from the US embassy in Madrid.

Visibly outraged at the suggestion, Sinde sidelines the question, and reiterates the official line: “The government is fully committed to protecting intellectual copyright, which is fundamental to the growth of our culture industry… Spain cannot afford the luxury of wasting its creative talent and the efforts of those working in the cultural value chain…”

Yeah, right. But since El País newspaper began publishing the Wikileaked cables sent between the US embassy in Madrid and the State Department in Washington, it has become apparent that successive ambassadors here have felt quite at home telling the Spanish government and judiciary what to do, whether that means stopping investigations into CIA kidnapping, torture in Guantánamo, or the killing of a Spanish cameraman by US troops in Iraq; and in this case, that Spain needs to get its act together and hit downloading sites hard.

On December 21, Spanish parties in Congress refused to pass the so-called “Sinde law”, which would have set up a new government committee tasked with drawing up lists of P2P sites. These sites would then be taken to a special court, which would have four days to rule on whether they should be fully or partially blocked.

The opposition Popular Party (PP) has presented various amendments to the Sinde Law, and while it broadly supports intellectual property rights, it rejects the government’s project. “In practice it will be possible to shut down websites without judicial guarantees, which opens the door to political power being able to violate fundamental rights such as freedom of expression,” said the PP’s congressional culture spokesman, José María Lasalle.

Spain has become notorious among rights holders for its levels of online piracy. International music trade group IFPI said earlier this year that Spain “has one of the highest rates of illegal file-sharing in Europe” and that “sales by local artists in the top 50 have fallen by an estimated 65 percent between 2004 and 2009.”

Given that Hollywood and the US music industry dominate the global entertainment industry, they’ve pressured Washington, which has in turn been turning up the heat on Spain.

Over the last couple of years, the US demanded that Spain take government action to curb file-sharing, threatening to put Spain on its annual “Special 301” intellectual property “Watch List”.

In 2008, the US Embassy in Madrid sent this cable back to Washington:

“We propose to tell the new government that Spain will appear on the Watch List if it does not do three things by October 2008. First, issue an announcement stating that internet piracy is illegal, and that the copyright levy system does not compensate creators for copyrighted material acquired through peer-to-peer file sharing. Second, amend the 2006 “circular” that is widely interpreted in Spain as saying that peer-to-peer file sharing is legal. Third, announce that the government will adopt measures along the lines of the French and/or UK proposals aimed at curbing Internet piracy by the summer of 2009.”

But the previous Culture Minister, César Antonio Molina wasn’t on message, so the US put Spain on its Section 301 Watch List, where it currently languishes between Romania and Tajikistan.

In its 2010 Watch List report, the US government notes: “Spain’s existing legal and regulatory framework has not led to cooperation between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and rights holders to reduce online piracy. On the contrary, rights holders in Spain report an inability to obtain information necessary to prosecute online IPR infringers, further reducing their ability to seek appropriate remedies. Spain’s legal system also generally does not result in criminal penalties for intellectual property infringement.”

Molina was given the boot and Sinde, a second-tier filmmaker and sometime screenplay writer with connections to the Spanish movie industry, was brought in to get the job done.

Washington liked this, noting in one of the Wikileaks cables that the Spanish government was now prepared to “allow a committee based in the Ministry of Culture to request that an ISP block access to infringing materials hosted online.”

But the on-message Sinde has been foiled. Parties that were considering backing the legislation swiftly turned their back on it as the scale of internaut anger became apparent, through online campaigns and the crashing of several party webpages on the day the vote was due.

El País reported on December 21 that an unnamed deputy had admitted that the Sinde law was “a response to pressure from the US film industry lobby, as Wikileaks has revealed,” which is something to bear in mind next time you hear Sinde holding forth about “protecting Spain’s creative talent”.

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Published: Dec 23 2010
Category: Culture
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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1 Comment for “Spain’s anti-P2P “Sinde law”: Her Master’s Voice?”

  1. Nice article, i think we will see this law come back in 6 months time under a new guise. Its only a matter of time before the law comes in but policing it will be cat and mouse as p2p sites come and go.

    Sinde is just a pawn but then again, the entire political system are just pawns to corporations and influential international governments.

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