European Parliament backs piracy bill

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BRUSSELS -- Draft legislation aimed at setting Europe-wide criminal penalties for counterfeiting and intellectual piracy was backed Tuesday by members of the European Parliament.

The parliament's legal affairs committee approved plans to amend copyright legislation in an attempt to tackle rampant piracy in some EU markets. The proposal raises the financial penalties and custodial sentences for most copyright infringements and applies a standard across Europe, rather than the varied levels in each market at present.

The plans would oblige all 27 EU countries to consider jail terms for the violation of intellectual property rights. With pirated goods surging within the EU, the European Commission has warned that it is an international business increasingly linked to organized crime.

The EC originally proposed a directive setting harmonized criminal penalties across the EU: a maximum of four years in prison and fines of up to €91,053 ($121,022). The fine would jump to €273,160 ($363,067) if organized crime is involved.

Italian socialist MEP Nicola Zingaretti, who drafted the parliament's bill, backs the EC's tough measures, arguing that national law alone can't fight international crime.
"Flows of counterfeited goods increased by 1,850% worldwide during the last 12 years," he said. "It affects organized crime and whatever is linked to massive production of counterfeited goods on a commercial scale. European states are the first victims of this black market, which affects consumers' health and public finances as well as companies."

The EC has warned that the range and value of pirated goods -- from pirated DVDs and downloaded movies to fake handbags and counterfeit medicines -- is on the rise and increasingly linked to organized crime.

The EU's move into criminal matters was triggered by a landmark ruling on environmental crimes by the European Court of Justice in September 2005 that gave Brussels the power to introduce harmonized criminal laws across the EU. The court said that the EC is allowed to propose penal measures -- until now, the exclusive domain of national governments -- in order to make EU legislation effective.

Although the EC recently announced plans for similar legislation on environmental crime, the proposed directive on intellectual property rights is the first to begin making its way through the labyrinth of EU procedure.

The parliament committee vote on the draft report already has been postponed twice as the scope of the law has been the focus of much debate. Euro-MPs have been divided between either broadening or limiting the remit of the proposed law.
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