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Law change irks Italians

Strike hits biz, Google to fight proposals

ROME — It’s quite an achievement — even by Italo Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s standards.

Changes to the media laws proposed by his center-right government have raised the ire of Internet behemoth Google and brought the Italo film and TV industry to a grinding halt as workers on both side of the cameras went on a one-day strike in protest.

Google’s European public policy counsel, Marco Pancini, made it clear that Google will fight the changes.

Industryites are incensed by legislation that would lower quotas forcing pubcaster RAI, Berlusconi’s Mediaset Group of channels and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia to air local movies and TV dramas in 10% of primetime slots. The bill would also eliminate residual rights owed to indie producers by Italo broadcasters.

Filmmakers picketed the Rome offices of RAI, Mediaset and Sky on Jan. 19, and halted shoots including Fox Italia’s gangster pic “Vallanzasca,” being helmed by Michele Placido in Milan.

The same legislative package could also turn Italy into the only Western country where the government controls content uploaded on Google-owned YouTube and other content-providing Web services by considering them on a par with TV broadcasters.

“We are concerned at the fact that Internet service providers, like YouTube, that simply make content available to the general public, are being bundled together with traditional television networks that actually manage content,” Pancini told Turin daily La Stampa. “It amounts to destroying the entire Internet system.”

Pancini, who requested a meeting with Paolo Romani, the deputy minister who drafted the decree, said Google will take action with the European Union if the legislation is approved.

Mediaset and Google are already duking it out in court in Italy where Mediaset is suing Google for e500 million ($724 million) in copyright infringement damages, mainly due to “Big Brother” uploads, at a time when Mediaset is also reportedly preparing to branch out into IPTV.

Critics charge that the Berlusconi government’s media moves, which would also allow Mediaset to air more TV advertising spots while lowering the cap on the amount of ads beamed by rival Sky, are tailored to favor Mediaset at the expense of its competitors.

“We have reached a delirium of omnipotence on the part of Berlusconi and his conflict of interest,” says center-left senator Vincenzo Vita, a former communications ministry undersecretary.

As for the legislation’s impact on the film industry, scribe Stefano Rulli, who heads the 100 Autori association, which led the protests, says it would eliminate “a fundamental law that fuels a regular flow of local productions and gives them visibility.”

The protests seem to have carried some weight with ruling politicians. The government has said it would reconsider its legislation after consulting with all those involved, including Google.

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