Push grows to blacklist Spain over digital pirating

More than 90 percent of downloaded music and 44 percent of software is pirated in Spain. Some trade associations want to see it blacklisted by the US, but Spain says it needs more time.

Spain, with one of the world’s worst online piracy track records, is hoping that plans to pass new antipiracy legislation this year will be enough to convince the US government to keep it off its infamous blacklist, despite the Spanish and American entertainment industry demands to relist it.

After five consecutive years on a “priority watch list” curated by the US office of trade, Spain was delisted in 2012 following its implementation of a more muscular antipiracy code. But the powerful International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), a coalition of US trade associations, recommended in February that Spain be included on this year's list of countries that do not do enough to protect copyright laws.

“Contrary to the expectations that led to Spain’s removal from the Special 301 Watch List last year, Spain saw no positive developments in 2012,” the IIPA said in its influential annual report released last month.

“Internet piracy has continued to grow at a tremendous rate. After years of difficulty, many in the copyright industries see not a hint of optimism for the levels of piracy in the country,” the report said.

A spot on the blacklist would carry the threat of sanctions and scare away investors, which could further damage Spanish efforts to rebuild its economy amid the euro crisis.

Spanish officials, though, say they don’t expect Spain to be blacklisted again, because they have only had one year to implement their 2012 legislation, and given the forthcoming laws, expected to be passed by the end of the year.   

While acknowledging limited success in the fight against online piracy, the government trusts the US will recognize it just needs more time, officials say.

“The IIPA’s request to have Spain included [on the US government's priority watchlist] doesn’t mean that we will,” says a high ranking official in the Culture Ministry, which is charged with protecting copyright content in Spain. “US authorities are aware of the Spanish government’s commitments and plans for more ambitious legislation. We trust we won’t be included,” says the official who asked not to be named because she is not permitted to speak publicly on the matter.

Pressure

Spain is one of 33 countries blacklisted by the IIPA in its 2013 annual report, including usual suspects like China, Russia, and India. But the IIPA has also recommended that the US government include countries like Italy, Canada, Israel, and Brazil on the 301 list that will be released in April. Ukraine was the worst offender last year, according to IIPA.

Spain's rate of piracy is increasing and reached 74 percent for the film industry, costing 1.4 billion euros, according to IIPA. More than 90 percent of downloaded music and 44 percent of software is pirated and illegally downloaded video games have “completely overtaken” the legitimate ones.

The pressure is not just coming from IIPA. On Jan. 22, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy agreed to a private meeting with former US Senator Chris Dodd, who is the chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, to discuss Spain’s antipiracy progress. Days later, the US ambassador to Spain also criticized Spain’s track record.

Under Spanish law, downloading unlicensed content is not illegal, but distributing it is. The new codes were supposed to make it easier to target peer-to-peer websites, a favorite source for online piracy. But these have “produced remarkably few results in the fight against online piracy,” the IIPA said.

In 2012, IIPA members filed 87 complaints after the codes went into effect, of which only 16 were initiated into cases, and none resulted in a blocked website. The lengthy process is not a “deterrent” to piracy, the IIPA said. Many sites are legally shielded because they don’t technically distribute copyright content, instead they simply act as middlemen linking uploaders to downloaders.

The entertainment industry wants the government to criminalize downloading pirated content, and it has recommended several ways to streamline forcefully shutting down websites and prosecuting their owners. However, European privacy laws and the need to harmonize them, coupled with the worsening economic and political Spanish crisis, limits how much the government can do.

“We realize we need to make [our laws] more effective,” the Culture Ministry source says. “But it’s a new process that needs more time to improve. You can’t expect this to change in one year of one administration.”

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