9 March 2004 Civil liberties groups are making a last-ditch attempt to water down a proposed new European Union directive on intellectual property rights, which they say will lead to a blizzard of law suits against many businesses and individuals.
The Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive, currently being debated in the European Parliament, is intended to crack down on organised piracy and counterfeiting in the EU.
However, critics claim that the directive gives large companies seeking to protect their intellectual property too much power. They even suggest that raids on small companies or individuals, the seizing of evidence and the freezing of bank accounts, could all become commonplace if the directive is allowed to go through.
“This directive treats consumers as if they were large commercial counterfeiters — even for a single, unintentional, non-commercial infringement,” said a group of activists called Campaign for Open Digital Environment (CODE).
Ian Brown of the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) warned: “It will lead to a flood of lawsuits against small businesses and consumers.”
A coalition of consumer rights groups, of which Brown is the director, is calling for MEPs to support a collection of amendments to limit the scope of the directive to commercial infringements only. More than 100 parliament members have already pledged their support.
However, the Business Software Alliance, an organisation that works on behalf of the world’s software industry, has been campaigning to broaden the scope of the directive.
It claims that 37% of software in Western European business is being used illegal and quotes IDC research which states that if the rate of software piracy in the UK was reduced from 25% to 15%, national income would increase by $18.5 billion (£10 billion). That would amount to $4.6 billion in tax revenue and 40,000 IT jobs.
But legal experts believe that the law will be toned down once it is debated in court.