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Right-winger sparks piracy debate

Italo politician admits to downloading music illegally

ROME — An admission by a high-ranking politician that he downloads music illegally from the Internet has kicked off a debate about proper copyright restrictions in Italy, a country with one of the worst piracy records in the EU.

“I download music illegally from the Internet,” Roberto Maroni recently confessed to Vanity Fair. “I am purposely dropping the dime on this so that this ends up in Parliament.”

Maroni, the former Welfare Minister during the Silvio Berlusconi government and today a parliamentarian from the ultra-right Northern League, said he believes music should be “free and accessible to all,” before adding, confusingly, that there should be some protections that enable the author to prevent the widespread distribution of his works online.

Maroni’s statement found backing from an unlikely ally. Francesco Caruso, an MP in Italy’s largest Communist party and one of the “No Global” advocates in Parliament, told Corriere della Sera on Thursday that file-sharing is an unstoppable force.

“The sharks at the multinationals have made music into a business, but they have to realize: copyright, they can forget,” Caruso said.

Enzo Mazza, the president of FIM, Italy’s trade group for professional musicians, vehemently disagreed with Maroni’s view condoning illegal downloads. He said on Thursday that Italians last year purchased 14 million songs via Net downloads, accounting for 10% of the market.

“There is no need to turn to illegal downloads,” he said, dismissing the comments as a political ploy to score points with young voters. “Why doesn’t Maroni ask that automobiles and restaurants be free for all?”

It’s unlikely the discussion of loosening up Italian copyright law will ever be a serious debate in Parliament, media and political observers commented. “Copyright should be safeguarded, even if the young people are for everything being free,” Maurizio Gasparri, the former Communications Minister under Berlusconi, told Corriere della Sera.

Italy in 2003 passed one of Europe’s toughest copyright laws, modelled on the EU copyright directive, passing down stiff fines for commercial pirates and individual downloaders. But, critics lament, the law is rarely enforced.

In its most recent piracy report, the music trade group IFPI, singled out Italy along with Russia and China as one of the top 10 supplier countries of pirated materials. IFPI said organised crime continues to operate a network of warehouses that produce counterfeit CDs and DVDs sold across much of southern Europe.

A common criticism by Italian consumers, and one repeated by many politicians in the current debate, is the hefty tax placed on CDs. Tax relief, in the form of reduced VAT, is an ongoing EU-wide lobbying effort by IFPI. Many music stores in Rome sell new releases at a price of Euros 18 ($23) and up.

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