EP votes for fines, prison terms for piracy

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BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament voted Wednesday for common European sanctions to combat piracy.

The measures include fines for counterfeiters of as much as €273,160 ($364,290) if organized crime is involved, or prison terms for up to four years. The report comes after the European Commission -- the EU's executive body -- warned of a rise in piracy and counterfeiting, from DVDs and software to handbags and medicine.

Italian socialist Nicola Zingaretti, who drafted the plans, said they were targeted at big criminals, not casual downloaders. "This legislation aims to tackle organized crime and the damage that counterfeiting and infringement of intellectual property rights do to European countries," Zingaretti said. "It is about punishing mafia-style criminals, not about jailing kids who download music from the Internet."

But the enforcement plan met fierce criticism from many sides, both inside and outside the parliament. Spanish Green Party member David Hammerstein Mintz called it "quite unacceptable" and said it launched "a witch hunt" on teenagers downloading music and movies.

European consumer group BEUC warned that the terms defining criminal offenses are so vague that they amount to a threat to civil rights. "Under this current proposal, the children of MEPs, together with millions of other young Europeans, would be subject to ill-defined threats of criminal sanctions," BEUC head Jim Murray said.
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