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MEPs - understanding how the internet works
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---fwd message - from http://www.sunday-times.co.uk - 14.02.1999
Internet service providers are up in arms over an EU
directive that is designed to protect copyright. Report by
Piracy law may make Web illegal
INTERNET companies claim a draft European Union
directive will make the Web illegal.
MEPs have overwhelmingly approved an amendment to a
proposed copyright directive that would outlaw a Net user
copying data without the approval of its copyright holder.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) claim that taken in its most
literal sense the directive would render most Net activity
illegal. They claim that not only would it be against the law to
download a web page without first asking its author, it would
also be illegal for an ISP to "cache" content.
The record industry, which was one of the leading
campaigners for the amendment, vigorously rejects the ISPs'
interpretation of the new clause.
Whenever anybody downloads information from the Net the
ISP has to temporarily copy or cache the data so it can be
passed on. Without this temporary copy, the data cannot be
sent to a subscriber.
When the customer receives the web page, another
temporary cache copy is made on his computer's hard disk
so it can be displayed on screen.
ISPs also cache data for longer-term use. This "proxy
caching" allows popular sites stored on foreign computers to
be stored locally, which speeds up the downloading process
and cuts the amount of traffic crossing national borders.
Originally the directive made provision for caching as long as
it did not harm the rights of copyright holders and was
"integral and essential" for the functioning of the Net.
An amendment successfully put forward last Wednesday by
Roberto Barzanti, an Italian socialist MEP, tightened the
proposed law. It added a need for copyright holders to give
their permission for all digital copies of their work. ISPs
lobbied against the proposals, dismayed at the lack of
understanding shown by MEPs.
Janet Henderson, rights and public policy manager at BT
Internet and a council member of the Internet Service
Providers Association (ISPA), is astonished by the vote.
"It's absolutely unbelievable. They have passed an
amendment that would effectively outlaw the Net," she says.
"We lobbied hard to highlight the fact that ISPs and their
customers have to cache data if the Net is to work. It has
nothing to do with attacking copyright. This is just the way
the networks operate."
The record industry says the ISPs are over-reacting. Olivia
Regnier, legal adviser to the International Federation of the
Phonographic Industry (IFPI), says: "The amendment and
the proposed directive simply state the obvious - that
copyright applies to the Net. We are not suggesting that
people have to get prior authorisation from the author of
every work they download. The proposed directive is just
there to underline that pirated material cannot be
downloaded because it does not observe copyright."
Graham Watson, liberal MEP for Somerset & North Devon,
opposed the Barzanti amendment. He believes the wording
of the final directive will be changed to clarify the issue when
it receives its second reading later this year.
"The proposed directive will have to go before parliament for
a second reading, probably around autumn, and I'm sure it
will look different to the draft directive passed on
Wednesday," he says.
"If the ISPA takes a lesson from this it should be that if you
don't lobby well and get a technical message over in plain
language, then people will not understand you.
"We had to sit through about 250 amendments and I think a
lot of MEPs found the whole process too complicated."
The row over the draft proposal is set to sour the
relationship between computer companies and the record
industry. Only two months ago the IFPI set up a forum so it
could talk to technology companies about protecting record
labels against piracy.
"Protect Your Privacy: Build a strong-crypto-brain."