European legislators starting to crack down

ROME — Throughout the ages, Europe has been beset by pirates of one kind or another.

These days, with Western Europe under siege by rampant internet piracy, legislators are starting to crack down while an emblematic trial against Pirate Bay in Sweden pits Hollywood against the notorious file-sharing site, which caters globally to millions.

Western European nations are, along with piracy hotspots such as China and Russia, among the worst offenders worldwide, according to a recent Intl. Intellectual Property Alliance report.

But a number of Euro governments are stepping in to stem the plague.

While Industryites eagerly await the verdict to be handed down in April by the Stockholm tribunal where the Motion Picture Assn., the Intl. Federation of the Phonographic Industry, and Recording Industry Assn. of America have sought to sink Pirate Bay, in Gaul the Sarkozy government is pushing through Parliament a groundbreaking antipiracy bill. Dubbed “three strikes you’re out,” the measure proposes to cut off Internet use to repeat offenders.

Meanwhile, governments in Italy and Blighty are taking the first steps to concretely combat online film and music piracy.

“There is now a sense in many European countries that this problem needs to be dealt with,” MPA Europe topper Chris Marcich tells Variety. “And the trial in Sweden could give these initiatives some impetus.”

The two-and-a-half-week trial against Pirate Bay, which is the world’s biggest file-sharing site using BitTorrent technology, closed in early March, with prosecutors seeking a verdict of two years in prison and some $13 million in damages against its four young administrators. Judgement day is expected to be April 17.

But the trial also has been a catalyst for pro-piracy activists, who are becoming a big part of Internet culture. Sweden even has a grassroots political movement called Pirates Party, which is looking to cross borders.

France’s three strikes legislation — under which a government agency would work in tandem with ISPs to mete out justice — is leading the Western European battle. But other nations are working on their own response.n The U.K. in January annnounced in its Digital Britain Report plans for a digital rights agency, being touted as a sign of determination to come to grips with the problem for the first time. Consultations on this agency began in March.

  • In Italy, where Internet piracy is estimated to cost E3 billion ($3.8 billion) a year, a government commission is looking to start drafting legislation by April for a warning system inspired by the French model.

  • In Spain, the government is enabling discussions between ISPs and rights holders.

  • Leading Irish ISP Eircom in January agreed to implement a warning and disconnection system.

  • The Netherlands is expected to begin ISP warnings in April.

By contrast, Germany in February decided to reject the “three strikes” approach and seems mired in an antipiracy impasse.

“Everybody is looking at France and the U.K. with great anticipation, because they are the two countries where something significant is going on regarding the ISPs that could lead to a solution that other countries would then want to follow,” says British Video Assn. topper Lavinia Carey.

Adds Filippo Roviglioni, topper of Italo antipiracy org Fapav, “We believe that even just a first warning would act as an effective deterrent to 80%-85% of illegal downloaders, who at present feel untouchable.”

Warner Bros. Italy prexy Paolo Ferrari says Europe is beginning to realize it must defend its talent.

“It would be great for old Europe to be at the forefront of this fight,” he says.

Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report.

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