Bill fines Internet providers who allow access to pirate sites

ROME — The Italian government will fill empty film fund coffers to the tune of $98 million for 2004 and get tough on those who download pics from the web.

The state film fund ran dry after scores of movies it financed flopped.

The coin, on the low side compared with previous subsidies, gives cash-strapped indies a little breathing room. The funds will be granted according to a new system that forces producers to provide half a pic’s budget to be eligible for financing.

The bill, passed Friday, also slaps stiff fines of up to $305,000 on local Internet providers who knowingly permit access to sites where pirated pics are available, and $1,800 for individuals caught pilfering pics from the Web. Those caught selling pirated pics will face up to three years’ incarceration.

This legislation places Italy, where piracy has long been rampant, at the forefront of the fight against copyright infringement in Europe. The European Union recently passed much milder piracy protection measures.

The new anti-piracy regulations have been cheered by local motion picture association Anica and homevid org Univideo, which estimates that losses to the local industry totaled $305 million in 2003.

But it also raises questions as to how these measures will be enforced.

“If we are to be responsible for what Web sites our customers can get to, then we become censors, just like Internet providers in China,” said Paolo Nuti, president of Italy’s Internet Providers Assn.

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