Global Observer

The Spanish SOPA stumbles

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MADRID -- Spain's anti-downloading law, which silently passed, is now reaching legal hurtles before it takes effect on March 1.

MADRID--Looks like the new Rajoy government may have moved a little too fast in quietly passing their version of the SOPA law, in a clear reaction to pressure from the States, who might not even pass theirs.

Thursday, the Spanish Supreme Court announced that they have accepted an official appeal against the anti-downloading act set to take effect on March 1. The main appeal was in response to a petition circulated by the Association of the Internet, which has "thousands of signatures." Their case cites that the Wert-Sinde law was passed without the proper legal authorization required, "creating considerable legal uncertainty and threatens the fundamental rights of citizens to freedom of expression and freedom of information."

The Spanish Minister of Education, Culture and Sports, Jose Ignacio Wert, who added his name to the top of the bill, was not worried. The Association's petition also requested a temporary suspension of Wert from his newly-appointed post, which the issue is at hand. In a response to the Supreme Court's investigation, Wert seemed confident that the March 1 date will not even be delayed because of his faith in how the Sinde law "demonstrates the seriousness in commitment and compliance to the requirements needed for respect of intellectual property."

SmartPlanet reported a month ago in "Spain tosses title of 'Download King of Europe'" how Spain passed the "Sinde law," which is better known as the "Ley Anti-Descargas" or "Anti-downloading Act." Set to go into effect in three weeks, any site perceived by an appointed property commission will be shut down or, if the site is managed outside Spain, will be blocked within the country. If the operators of the offending sites are found guilty, then proprietors of that particular copyrighted material can sue for damages. It seems to target those that profit off the sites, but not necessarily those that use the sites. It doesn't seem to be at the same level as certain downloading laws in the U.S. that led to the arrests of university students.

After much public debate during the final months of the Zapatero administration, the Rajoy administration passed the law in a quick and quiet manner on New Year's Eve. A few days later, Spain was alight with the news and anti-Sinde petitions began to spread.

It only took the leak of a letter from the U.S. ambassador for explanations to fall into place. In this letter, it was made clear that the U.S. would further downgrade Spain's official relationship with the States, if they did not pass the law in a timely fashion, as they were incredibly "disappointed" that the Zapatero administration avoided the legal hot potato. On December 30, Rajoy received a similar letter from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the bill was signed within 24 hours.

This all being said, no one is fully understanding of the law, which is long on the reasons why it exists--especially how it attributes that the Spanish film industry lost nine million euros last year to the online black movie market--, but it isn't rich with parameters or guides to what specifically constitutes creative copyright infringement.

While many of the Spanish are morally-opposed to the new anti-pirating laws, most are confident they can work around them. "To be honest, I just download things because we don't have access to them in Spain, like TV shows or good music. For example, I pay for Netflix, Spotify and iTunes," said Madrid-based computer programmer Tavo Darko, though his Netflix account is technically in England, as Netflix has officially no plans to come to Spain right now. Like the Sky Sports channel in all the Irish and English pubs around Madrid, while these things are technically illegal to have in Spain, people seem to find ways around most laws, specifically viewing ones. "I can always use a VPN, so I will have a foreign IP address, so technically, I'm not doing anything illegal, (at least) in Spain."

"I guess people will find the way to avoid that stupid law," Darko says. He said he read somewhere, "If you want to make laws about technology, first learn technology." He argues that, "There's a thousand ways to download things from the Internet and it's impossible to stop it, but if you make it available and cheap to everyone, I'm pretty sure illegal downloads will be less."

When asked if fewer people or enterprises will set up upload/download Web sites, if the government will then just shut them down, he responded, "In the time they (viewing and downloading sites) are shut down, a thousand more are opened," Darko said.

Whether people can work around the law or not, many Europeans are enraged. This Saturday, February 11, is Europe's official day of demonstrations against ACTA. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement--which has already been approved by the U.S., Japan and Australia, among other countries--has been signed by Spain and 21 other EU countries, but still has some EU loopholes to pass through. Must stronger than Spain's Sinde, this controversial law sets up an international, multi-lateral, independent governing body that regulates the global trade of both goods and information. On the face, it claims to be targeting the increase in illegal trade of copyrighted goods and products--anywhere from fake Louis Vuitton bags to pirated DVDs.

The seemingly ever-growing protests claim that it is tantamount to censorship, especially in regards to its attention to online intellectual property rights. There have been huge anti-ACTA protests in Poland and the head of the EU's ACTA commission Kader Arif resigned last month. Saturday's protest will see over 100 EU cities, including Madrid, holding protests against the law, which has already been by the member states and the EU as a whole, but has a few more steps until is officially true.

The Spanish joke that many of the citizens will in hot water if the anti-downloading law passes. ("Sopa" is Spanish for "soup.") In three weeks, we will know what comes to boil.

Photo: Demotix

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Jennifer Riggins

Correspondent (Barcelona)

Jennifer Riggins is the content manager and community builder for two SaaS Quote Roller and PandaDoc, as well as she teaches sales, English, and public speaking for Spanish small business. She holds a degree from William Paterson University. She is based in Spain. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure