December 7, 2007 | By Danny O'Brien

Music Industry Pressures EU Politicians for Filtered Internet

The music and film industry continues to pursue its idea of a politically "corrected" Internet - one that they imagine could protect their old business models without requiring any extra costs on their part.

This time, the fix is Internet-wide filtering. In a memo to European policy-makers, the International Federation of Phonographic Industries has called upon ISPs in Europe to filter the content sent across their networks, block protocols used by their customers, and cut off access to persistently infringing sites from the Net (you can read their full memo here). Left unsaid in it was the obvious implication: if ISPs aren't willing to comply, EU regulators should force the ISP's hand.

Disturbingly, European politicians seem open to the idea of ISPs policing and interfering with their customers' communications on behalf of rightsholders. Last month, the European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) tabled an amendment to a Parliamentary report that changed an innocuous request to "rethink the critical issue of intellectual property", into a call for "internet service providers to apply filtering measures to prevent copyright infringements".

This week, EFF Europe sent a letter to the members of the Culture and Education Committee, whose original report the ITRE Commitee was amending. We pointed out that some of the groups hardest hit by blanket filtering measures Internet would be artists and teachers themselves. Pre-emptive blocking and filtering by machines could make no evaluation of whether the transmitted content is permitted by the limitations and exceptions carved out for those groups in copyright law. IFPI says that all "unlicensed" files should be blocked: in other words, researchers using the quotation exception, teachers using education exceptions, or artists using their rights to parody or pastiche, would have to beg for a license or find their conversations banned from the Net.

Building such filtering and censorship tools is not just bad for creators and education, though; it's bad for society. Any country that has a centralized system in place to pry into all its citizen's private communications, and then pre-emptively sever those which it deems "unsuitable", creates both a very disturbing precedent, and a dangerously powerful tool vulnerable to misuse. Perhaps the music industry's European lobbyists have lost sight of the serious collateral damage their proposals would cause, but European citizens and their elected policy-makers should not.

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