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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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August 21, 2008

In Which Our Hero TriesTo Comprehend EU Copyright Issues

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

OK, I'm in need of help here. Have I got this right?

I got an interesting pointer from a European Copyfight reader indicating that I should take a look at the growing controversy over the European Parliament's proposed new telecoms package. As far as I can tell the source of this controversy is here:

This is a set of innocuous-sounding proposals to "co-ordinate" and "harmonise" radio spectrum use. It contains high-minded phrases like "safeguard media pluralism." It proposes setting up some kind of overarching governing body (Body of European Regulators in Telecommunications (BERT)). National regulators would have to submit proposed regulations to BERT. Seems pretty simple. That's one side.

On the other side we have some pretty inflammatory language. "European Parliament rushes towards Soviet Internet" screams the not-for-profit FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure).


The FFII claims to be "largely responsible for the rejection of the EU software patent directive in July 2005" and to speak for over 100,000 members. Their objection to the telecom package seems to revolve around a set of amendments that were (to use a US phrase) back-doored in at the last minute. Apparently, these amendments would permit BERT "to define which are the authorised software applications for the internet." Which is to say, if your preferred app doesn't meet with regulatory approval then you can't run it, your ISP can't provide it to you?

That'd be... bad. But wait, there's more.

A site called "TELECOMTV" is conducting a related petition campaign against the package, on the grounds that among the 800 or so amendments to the package is language that would remove ISPs content-neutral immunity.

TelecomTV logo

In particular, ISPs currently aren't required to monitor or police content or user identities on their networks, until something specific arises such as an allegation of copyright violation or other illegal activity. ISPs are "mere conduits" under current laws; the new amendments would remove that protection and force ISPs to track or even block individuals' access to the net.

TelecomTV is arguing for the removal of three specific amendments that would force ISPs to act as copyright police. They are also opposed to the spread of something like a "3 Strikes" rule ("Riposte Graduee" in French) that would require ISPs to warn, discipline, and eventually sever users.

This doctrine is presently generating a lot of criticism in France where it was first proposed. Organizations such as "La Quadrature du Net" are calling for a moratorium on new rules related to digital telecoms rights & freedoms. The argument is that the MEP (Members of the European Parliament) didn't really understand what they were voting on, don't grok the net, and need to consider the implications of new regulations more fully before passing them.

I hope I've done this issue some measure of justice. An American point of view isn't necessarily going to translate some of these things well, even though most of the published materials are in English.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations


1. Branko Collin on August 24, 2008 7:00 AM writes...

When BoingBoing raised the alarm about the Telecom package, I tried to look into this, pouring over every sentence in what I assumed was the alleged amendment. I could not find anything though that even remotely referred to the infamous Three Strikes and You're Out policy. I also checked the website of the amendment's opponents, but there I found no links to the amendment either. I then asked an IP lawyer, but the worst he could find was the obligation for ISPs to "distribute public interest information to existing and new subscribers when appropriate." Meaning, ISPs should become nannies to their subscribers, telling them that certain types of behaviour are bad.

None of that means that there isn't a movement within the EU to change the role of ISPs from TCP/IP transport company to Judge Dredd. Individual EU member states are moving ahead with proposals such as the ones you write about. Ars Technica mentions that the UK has a voluntary covenant with ISPs, and that France is actually introducing a 3 Strikes Out rule.

I guess your best bet is to ask the opponents of these rules themselves what the texts of the amendments are, and where to find them. All such E.U. documents are public, so in the end you should be able to read them for yourself.

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2. Andres on August 26, 2008 9:05 AM writes...

You can find some long and detailed posts on the 3 strikes saga here.

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