Spanish pirates flip for disk drives

Technology makes job tougher for authorities

MADRID — Spain’s uphill battle against piracy is getting steeper.

The reason: small modem-like boxes, with remote controls and a computer USB plugs. Sold in department stores, they sport names like Best Buy’s Easy Player Jumbo Plus HD 400GB or Argosy’s Mobile Video GDD 400 GB.

They’re hard disk drives that plug into PCs and then TV sets, allowing downloaded movies easy TV play. Their sales are rising fast. “They’re steady little earners,” said one retailer over the Christmas season.

Prices have held, ranging from the Easy Player’s E379 ($493) to $194 for a drive from Woxster, a Spanish brand. But with sales ramping up, the drives are increasing capacity and features, such as photo and memory disk storage.

As hard disk usage seeps from Spanish geekdom to the mainstream, Spanish Internet piracy has hit Himalayan heights. According to consultancy Gfk, 43% of Spaniards pirate movies.

“Spain’s the most piracy-sodden country in Europe,” laments Jose Manuel Tourne, managing director of Spain’s Anti-Piracy Federation. As movie downloads spiral, their legal context, already a gray zone, has become fuzzier.

Few young Spaniards consider peer-to-peer downloading a crime.

Legal sentences flip-flop. Last July, a Spanish judge threw out a case against a P2P-er who copied thousands of music CDs and movies, then posted them free on the Web. Ruling peer-to-peer practices illegal, he said, would be “criminalizing socially admitted and widely practiced behavior where the aim is not to gain wealth illegally, but to obtain private copies.” Other sentences have fined downloaders, however.

Spain’s socialist government is battling for massive peer-to-peer downloading to be considered a civil offense, with practitioners held liable for damages to copyright holders. Spain’s anti-piracy counts on one ironic deterrent: Spanish P2Pers are discovering — gasp — that fellow pirates aren’t totally legit. Researching this article, Variety downloaded Sofia Coppola’s latest from eMule. When opened, the file entitled “Marie Antoinette” proved to be “The Gangbang Girl No. 35.”

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