While U.S. officials are scrambling to pass domestic Internet censorship legislation in the name of curbing copyright infringement, they’ve been much more effective in their efforts to export these laws abroad. Previously, we’ve examined US attempts to pressure the prior Spanish presidential administration to enact harsh copyright laws. A new letter reported by the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, reveals that the U.S. government didn’t miss a beat when they renewed their threat to put in place trade penalties toward Spain unless the new government enacted a copyright law in a timely manner. The US was dangerously close to getting their dream legislation in Spain last year, but were disappointed when the Spanish executive office deferred to fully enact the copyright law, Ley Sinde, due to its wide unpopularity. Digital activists and Internet rights lawyers internationally recognized that this Spanish law would overtly skirt due process, violate personal privacy, and limit freedom of expression.
Spain is one of the many countries we’ve included in Global Chokepoints, where we have profiled countries that have enacted over-broad anti-piracy laws that block and filter websites at the expense of online expression. Before the introduction of Ley Sinde and pressure from the U.S. government, Spain had been on the pragmatic side of copyright enforcement legislation. This new law however, speeds up the process of takedowns by requiring content intermediaries such as ISPs and hosting providers to take measures to block content and shut down websites deemed guilty of infringement within 48 hours. It is also labeled as "anti-P2P" legislation aimed at shutting down file-sharing sites. Another deeply troubling provision for individual privacy rights allows affected parties to seek the identity of those believed to have infringed on copyright.1
The 2010 Wikileaks cables showed that the U.S. actively threatened Spain to force them to pass stronger copyright enforcement laws. The U.S. delivered on their threat, and since 2008 have continued to put Spain on their Special 301 Report which is essentially a watch list of countries with "bad" intellectual property policies.2 The new letter reported by El Pais on December 12, 2011 reveals how the U.S. ambassador disparaged Spanish officials for not getting the law fully put in place. The letter said:
The government has unfortunately failed to finish the job for political reasons, to the detriment of the reputation and economy of Spain… I encourage the Government of Spain to implement the Sinde Law immediately to safeguard the reputation of Spain as an innovative country that does what it says it will, and as a country that breeds confidence.
The US has raised the stakes and stated that they would elevate Spain in the USTR's annual Section 301 report by listing it in the “Priority Watch List”. While this does not directly lead to trade sanctions, it does indicate increased scrutiny and pressure from the U.S. to get a law passed. Unfortunately, these means of diplomatic intimidation have shown to get them results.
While the Spanish Congress had approved Ley Sinde in February 2011, unfinished administrative procedures left the law in limbo. On Friday December 30th 2011 however, the newly elected executive government passed Ley Sinde by approving the regulation that dictated the application of the law. This was the final piece needed to put this defective law into place.
This is a big loss for digital rights and privacy advocates everywhere. However, Spanish Internet users are already organizing a boycott. They are calling Internet users not to purchase or consume any artistic or intellectual works of authors, producers, agents, or managers who have explicitly expressed or participated lobbying for Ley Sinde.3 Because Internet users are also claiming that the regulation exceeds statutory limits established in the Constitution, it is likely that this law will unleash a flood of legal complaints.4 Victor Domingo Prieto, President of La Asociación de Internautas argues that "when the Intellectual Property Commission take its first steps [of blocking sites], reports of the unconstitutionality of their decisions will occur immediately."
The shocking revelations of secret U.S. threats to governments to enforce copyrights should serve as a wake-up call. It is clear that U.S.-led political forces backed by big content industry continue to stop at nothing to pass laws, or even secret trade agreements, in order to try to curb copyright infringement and protect entrenched copyright holder profits. Especially in light of the way similar U.S. domestic laws are getting formulated with barely any technical or legal analysis of its consequences, it is clear that government officials have no consideration for the impacts such a law would have on other societies. This kind of reckless rule making generates laws that not only violate individual freedoms but are ultimately completely ineffective towards their stated end of advancing innovation and protecting industry jobs.
Global Chokepoints: http://www.globalchokepoints.org
Twitter updates on Ley Sinde and the planned boycott:
- 1. The parties must request this data through a legal process, and a judge must issue an order to reveal the data necessary to identify infringers.
- 2. For more history on the US Trade Represenative’s Special 301 Report: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/shaping-ip-laws-not-so-gentle-persuasion-special
- 3. A list of the authors, artists and filmmakers that have explicitly expressed support for Ley Sinde [Spanish]: http://wiki.nolesvotes.org/wiki/Boicot#List
- 4. Websites which plan to challenge to fight the closure of their site in court [Spanish]: http://www.publico.es/culturas/415909/la-lista-de-sinde