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Leak reveals U.S. threat moved Spain to implement anti-piracy law

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, January 5, 2012 12:57 EDT
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A pirate flag is raised above a ship. Photo: Flickr user bazylek100.
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Much as U.S. officials leaned on France to pass an Internet disconnection law for repeated copyright offenders, so too was Spain threatened with repercussions if their lawmakers did not pass a strict new anti-piracy law, according to a leaked U.S. diplomat’s letter obtained by Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Dated Dec. 12, 2011 and written by U.S. Ambassador Alan D. Solomont (an Obama appointee), the letter expressed frustration with outgoing President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who did not adopt policies imposing sanctions for online piracy even though he was pressured to by the U.S.

That policy was adopted on Dec. 30, in one of the first major reforms implemented by the administration of Mariano Rajoy Brey, who took office on Dec. 21.

Spain’s new copyright enforcement policy goes a bit further than just disconnecting repeat violators. First, it creates a new governing agency to study claims of copyright infringement, which would be acted upon within 10 days of the initial complaint. If the agency chooses to act, the country’s ISPs are required to fill the role of its enforcement mechanism, or face a penalty. ISPs would then be required to block the domain of any site found to be engaged in copyright infringement.

The provisions are similar, but not the same as, the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act, which remains under consideration by lawmakers in the House of Representatives but has yet to pass in the U.S.

Spain has long been known as a haven for online piracy, with some estimates claiming that films and music are more often pirated than purchased in the country. Some U.S. movie studios have even threatened to stop selling DVDs in Spain, and the U.S. has placed them on a list called “Special 301,” which serves as a formal warning ahead of potential trade sanctions.

Those very sanctions were threatened by Ambassador Solomont, according to El Pais, if the country did not adopt policy that would force Internet service providers (ISPs) to block infringing websites.

The same day the law was implemented, the Spanish media published another letter leaked by a government source showing that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had also pressured lawmakers to accept the proposals, warning of possible damage to the nation’s economy if they did not.

The prior administration had been expected to approve the measures, but El Pais noted that officials decided against them at the last moment after an outcry from Spaniards, who took to social media on the eve of a crucial meeting about the bill.

El Pais previously reported that U.S. officials played a key role in helping formulate Spain’s 2009 Sustainable Economy Bill, an earlier attempt at codifying anti-piracy policy into law. Communications between the U.S. and Spanish embassies were also included in the trove of U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, which showed that threats of economic reprisals from the U.S. are nothing new.

U.S. officials were threatening to place Spain on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 list as early as February 2008, according to El Pais, unless the administration passed a law requiring users be disconnected from the Internet after their third violation of copyright law.

The latest threat upped the ante significantly, warning that if Spain did not adopt the rules for Internet users, it would be moved from the Special 301 to a Priority Watch List. Countries on the Priority Watch List are considered to be in violation of trade agreements with the U.S., and can be subject to a variety of sanctions.

(H/T: Torrent Freak)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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