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Jan 25, 2012
Spain's Sinde Law to test effectiveness of national anti-piracy legislation
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On Friday, January 20, 2012, the House Judiciary Committee issued an announcement that the controversal Protect IP Act (PIPA) bill would be placed on hold. Its proposed sister act, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), was halted in the U.S. Congress in December 2011, with a projected review by the House  Judiciary Committee in February 2012. While it seems as if this may be the shelving of both legislative efforts, Congress should take an extended pause to see how effective a similar anti-piracy law in Spain pans out.   

On January 3, 2012, the Spanish Parliament, under the leadership of Partido Popular, passed an anti-piracy law that is in many respects similar to the proposed SOPA. Named the Sinde Law, after Ángeles González-Sinde, a scriptwriter and Culture Minister of Spain from April 2009 until December 2011, the online anti-piracy legislation authorizes a Spanish intellectual property commission panel to hear allegations from parties that IP rights are being infringed by a website. 
"It's a governmental commission, whose members are appointed by representatives from the Ministries of Culture, Industry, Tourism and Commerce," says Maria Garcia Sanz, professor at Complutense University of Madrid in the department of communication. Professor Sanz stated to IEEE Spectrum that Spain's IP commission is not a court, though it is authorized to accept or reject complaints. Instead, a Spanish court may intervene at different points in the procedure.  
Unlike SOPA, which proposes to target both infringing websites and users and to bring in payment processors and online ad networks as enablers or facilitators, Spain's Sinde Law does not target individual users who display or upload pirated content.
Under the Sinde Law, website owners charged with infringement have three days to present an argument before the IP commission. If the commission finds an infringement, the hosting ISP is instructed to remove the content or block the website, with the aim of completing the process within 10 days, according to the BBC.
The measure was originally proposed and rejected in 2010 in Spain before it was pushed through in December 2011 by the new executive government, led by the Popular Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Spanish newspaper El Pais reports that the U.S. lobbied to resurrect the anti-piracy law through U.S. Ambassador Alan Solomont's efforts. This was after Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero, the outgoing Prime Minister, shelved the proposed legislation after protests from internet activists. Prime Minister Rajoy enacted the legislation less than a month into office.
Spain has a huge problem with online piracy, including peer-to-peer file sharing of works by Spanish musicians and filmmakers and Hollywood movies. The Spanish author Lucia Etxebarria, upon learning that her digital books were among the most pirated, responding by anouncing on her Facebook page that she would stop writing until Spain provided better protection of its cultural arts. 
“I learned that I have the dubious honor of being among the top writers in Spanish in the world whose works are illegally sold and downloaded online,” said Etxebarria to Spanish TV. “I was furious.” After the passage of the Sinde Law, Etxebarria reportedly announced she would revisit her decision.
In 2011, Spain found itself among 28 countries added to the U.S.'s Special 301 Report, which also included its continental neighbors Italy, Greece, Belarus and Ukraine. The Special 301 Report lists countries deemed to have the worst problem with online piracy. According to the IDC report The Observation of Piracy and Consumption of Digital Content Habits, music consumption in Spain involves 97.8% illegal content. In 2008, Spain was reportedly the worst country for piracy within the European Union.
Spanish protests of the Sinde Law include the discontent of techies, bloggers and journalists. As the U.S. grapples with its own response to protection of the cultural industries from online piracy, a close study of the effectiveness of the Sinde Law would be a wise approach before moving forward with national legislative efforts like SOPA and PIPA. Spain may now find that it is a test case of national legislative efforts to combat global anti-piracy.
This article is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice.
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