MADRID--Spain's reigning title as the download king of Europe will be ripped away this March as downloading becomes illegal. After being threatened with blacklisting by the United States, Spain gave into pressure and passed their Anti-Downloading Act, which will shut down Web sites that promote the sharing of illegal downloading, with the potential to fine them.
During the last moments of 2011, while most of the Spanish were cramming 12 grapes into their mouths, the newly sworn-in Rajoy government was passing the "Sinde law," named after its biggest advocate. The Sinde law will target and shut down sites that allow illegal downloading.
The official intention of the law is to protect copyrights "to all matters directly related to collective management of intellectual property rights." Under the law, a property commission will be set up with representatives from the Ministries of Education, Culture and Sports, and Economy and Competitiveness to determine which Web sites appear to be openly "infringing on copyrights." The commission will then ask a judge for the equivalent of a warrant within 72 hours, that will force the site to shut down within seven to ten days. In other cases, the Spanish government will only have the jurisdiction to block access within the Spanish borders. A broadcasting company or otherwise creative entity is then allowed to bring up charges in court, to earn back money perceived as lost in illegal views.
The law cites that downloading has significantly hurt the already-flailing Spanish economy, of which the visual, musical, literary and multimedia creative sectors evidently make up about 4-percent of the GDP. Some predict this was about 9 million euros lost last year in unsold tickets to Spanish movies, alone.
Over the last months of the Zapatero administration, frequent downloaders clutched to their computers, nervously awaiting the law, whose vote was perpetually delayed. However, on December 12, 2011, U.S. Ambassador to Spain (and Andorra) Alan Solomont sent a letter that essentially threatened to downgrade Spain to a "priority watch" or blacklist of the world's worst intellectual property right offenders. Being on priority watch can mean economic and trade sanctions.
Opponents of the Sinde law argue that it is really being used to censor and repress creative expression on the Internet. Also, this type of law in general is considered controversial because it is a "Royal Decree" law, which means that the president can legally act in an "urgent matter," not needing congressional approval.
Needless to say, this, in addition to the actions of the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act, makes it more challenging to find free content online, but it doesn't make it impossible.
"There is very little loyalty on the Internet, so people will flock to whichever Web sites provide them with what they need," says Madrid resident Brian Mok, who typically downloads whole seasons of American and British television shows to watch online. He does not seem deterred. "Streaming is not affected by SOPA, so if it really came down to it, we can still watch things online." While the Sinde law targets downloading sites, it is written in such a way that streaming sites could be shut down as well.
For most of us living in Spain, this law seems to be more of an inconvenience than an infringement on our civil liberties, but only time will tell if it strongly affects the day-to-day of the Spanish.
What do you think? What is happening where you are?