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Entertainment business wants data retention to be used to track copyright infringement

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:23 pm on 3 December, 2005.
Categories privacy and surveillance, democracy and the rule of law.
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The Register reports that the Creative Media and Business Alliance have written to MEPs asking for retained communications data to be used to enforce copyright, and other intellectual property rights:

The entertainment industry is trying to commandeer the proposed European directive on data retention to help it prosecute filesharers in the European Union, it has emerged.

The newly-formed Creative and Media Business Alliance (CMBA), an informal grouping (it says) of companies including Sony BMG, Disney, EMI, IFPI, MPA and Universal Music International, says it wants the data protection directive to be modified specifically so that it can be used to go after pirates.

In a letter to all MEPs, the CMBA said:

“We would appreciate your support in ensuring that this becomes an effective instrument in the fight against piracy”.

It went on to ask MEPs to amend the directive so that it covers all criminal offences, not just the “serious” ones of organised crime and terrorism, and that law enforcement’s access to the data should not be limited.

When it voted on Wednesday, the European parliamentary committee on civil liberties did keep the word “serious”, but only as defined in the European arrest warrant, which includes piracy.

According to Suw Charman, founder of the Open Rights Group, this means the door is officially open for the entertainment industry to use legislation designed to protect European citizens from terrorists to prosecute them instead.

The push for the retention of communications data has hitherto been justified as a means of fighting terrorism and organised crime. Now we see the entertainment industry are pushing for it to be used to investigate copyright infringement. This is a pattern one can often see in government, where legal powers introduced for one purpose are later extended for other purposes, i.e. function creep.

The Open Rights Group note how this proposal ties in with another proposal to make copyright infringement a criminal offence (it is currently merely a civil offence):

Now tie this in with IPRED2, another nasty bit of legislation which criminalises all “intellectual property” infringement on a commercial scale and “aiding and abetting such infringement”, with very thin definitions of what “commercial scale” or “intellectual property” means. The two directives together become even more alarming.

IPRED2 mandates that the police work with rightsholders to pursue suspected cases of IP infringement - including patent infringements - or merely vocal encouragement of infringement. And the Data Retention directive provides them with reams of data they can mine for evidence against these suspected infringers.

At the latest IPRED2 hearing, that’s exactly what the CBMA’s parent organisation, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), demanded.

This opens up a very ugly can of worms where entire industries can get unparalleled powers of investigation, provided at the taxpayer’s expense.

Moreover, if the CMBA get their way, the number of data retention enquiries that the telcos and ISPs will have to process will be far higher than if restricted to terrorism and serious crime. This will put far more pressure on the telcos and ISPs who will not only have to bear the cost of storing the data, but also of providing access to the information to the authorities.

They also point out that:

Both Data Retention and IPRED2 are being frogmarched through the European Parliament at an alarming speed. Votes are being held by three committees over the next few days on Data Retention, with secret meetings going on in the background between the Council, the Commission and the Parliament, with the aim of reaching a tacit agreement on what this legislation should look like.

On 13 December 2005, the Parliament votes on the Data Retention directive. Usually, they get two stabs at it, with the Council having a say in between. This time, they get just one vote.

This time, MEPs will have just a few days between being presented with the proposed legislation as drawn up in the secret meetings and being expected to come to an informed, considered decision on whether it should become law.

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