New Spanish Minister Cracks Down on Piracy

 REUTERS/Juan Carlos Rojas

MADRID - In his first appearance as Minister of Culture and Education, Jose Ignacio Wert made it very clear he intends to fight Spain's rampant piracy and to step away from a subsidy-based model of film financing.

"No one respects the culture of a country that is (the) leader in the ranking of illegal downloads," Wert said shortly after taking office Monday. "We don't go anywhere in that direction."

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Wert said he saw culture as a keystone of intellectual property law.

"Very soon we'll have news. But I will say with complete clarity that none of the objectives that we are considering is compatible with the existence of legal loopholes that allow for the abuse of intellectual property or the pillaging of creators."

More than 77 percent of the digital content consumed in Spain in the first half of 2011 was pirated, according to a study conducted by the Observatory of Piracy and Consumption Habits of Digital Content, which estimated the consumption of pirated content cost the music, film, publishing and videogame sectors more than 5.2 billion euros ($7.2 billion) in the first half of 2011 -- a .3 percent rise from the same period last year.

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Spain's movie industry has been buzzing with Wert's appoitment last week as he is expected to take a hard line against piracy by facilitating legislation to pass a long-tabled anti-piracy law that would shut down prolific peer-to-peer sites.

But the business is also jittery as to what effect the new center-right Popular Party government's stance on promoting sponsorship for culture will have on film financing.

"Our cultural strategy will be careful and realistic. It has to work on very limited resources, appropriate to the time we are in office," Wert said at his swearing in. "It's not a time to blow seeds to the wind, but that each seed that is sowed is placed where it has the best chance to give fruit. We don't want to do away with cultural subsidies, but rather to the culture of subsidies."

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The subsidy fund pooled $100 million in 2011.  Experts expect a reduction in 2012, but voices from the industry fear a more serious attack on the way films are financed in Spain.

Wert did little to dispel anxiety.

"A sponsorship law will be passed with the utmost of urgency," Wert said. "We hope to have it ready in the first quarter. It's a key piece to bringing back society's say in culture."

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