Country's federal court to block sites in violation

MADRID — The Spanish government approved anti-piracy legislation Friday that will allow National Audience, the country’s federal court, to close or block websites facilitating unauthorized movie and music downloads.

Included in a Sustainable Economy Bill, the new rulings offer content owners the opportunity to lodge copyright infringement complaints with an intellectual property commission at Spain’s ministry of culture.

The commission will filter complaints through to a judge at the Audience.

The judge then has four days to decide whether to temporarily close the website, pending further investigation.

Piracy is rampant in Spain. The Coalition of Creators and Content Industries has claimed that there are 200 peer-to-peer BitTorrent tracker services in Spain.

In the past, Spanish courts have waived action against non-profit unauthorized peer-to-peer usage by end users. They have, however, moved to penalize P2P use for commercial purposes.

The new regs are in line with this policy, said Dan Cryan, at entertainment analysis company Screen Digest, and are likely to be effective. “There is evidence that this, combined with the licensing of authorized content, can impact on online piracy,” Cryan said, pointing to the example of South Korea. There the government allowed content owners to go after so-called “webhards,” sites that facilitated file-sharing.

The simultaneous licensing of legal content to “webhards” has encouraged the re-emergence of an online paid video sector in South Korea, Cryan observed.

Spain, however, poses a posse of problems for anti-piracy moves.

If some sites are blocked, others may emerge to take their place.

Spain has seen little take up for mainstream online content services — even those device-driven services, such as iTunes, PlayStation and Xbox, that have worked in other countries. PlayStation and Xbox only launched in November, Cryan pointed out.

Also, at least from initial reports, it is unclear whether sites that switch to the trading of legal content will be able to survive.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more