Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How To Download A Good Legal Farce

The internet in Spain, and particularly Twitter, was very lively yesterday as the Spanish government's proposed legislation to control download websites was voted on in the parliament. It didn't go at all well for the government and the final vote was repeatedly postponed as negotiations were held to try and get other parties to support the legislation, known somewhat misleadingly as the Ley Sinde in honour of the culture minister responsible for seeing it through. No other parties volunteered to share the burden, not even the Basque PNV who currently guarantee the government's stability. Things reached such a desperate situation that the government even tried to negotiate with the Partido Popular, whose record on helping the government with its difficulties is not exactly a great one. 

In the end the vote was against the proposed law, although this apparently doesn't mean that the battle has finished. The Senate could still resurrect the proposal, although the governing PSOE has less weight there than it does in the lower house. It was always a misconceived piece of legislation which sought to give administrative powers to a government appointed committee to close down websites. The only judicial intervention was a rubber stamping process from a judge. In reality it was an attempt to permit the industry to circumvent the slowness of the judicial process with a fast-track solution that is simply not available to anyone else who has a grievance they need to resolve. The government made no significant concession of any kind over criticisms of this process, despite the evident room for abuse that it would allow. 

In any case it was an odd manoeuvre to attach the anti-download bill to the Ley de Economía Sostenible. This latter law was, until all decisions affecting Spain's economy were outsourced a few months ago, to be the legislation that pointed the way forward to a bright, productive future for the Spanish economy. How dated such notions seem now that we are stuck in the dark gloom of permanent, markets inspired, crisis. In any case it just didn't fit, a law that was designed to protect the old business model of the entertainment industry had no natural place inside another that was intended to be looking towards the future. 

It didn't help either that the Wikileaks revelations have recently shown quite insistent pressure from the US government on Spain to introduce this kind of legislation on downloads of films and music. This was not what supporters of the law needed. Even so, film director Alex de la Iglesia is well regarded even by critics of the Ley Sinde for getting down into the trenches of Twitter and arguing the case of the industry. Not so well received was the intervention by singer Alejandro Sanz who called Spanish parliamentarians cowards for not approving the legislation. Many were quick to point out that Sanz could always spend less time in Miami and could even pay his taxes in Spain if he wants to participate in political debates here. 

Despite the battle not being over, there is a certain amount of satisfaction amongst critics of the law today with many seeing this as a victory for cyberactivism. The mobilisation on internet has been quite impressive on an issue which unites many users of the web who would not necessarily feel such a close identity of interest on other issues. How much of the success is down to this campaign, and how much is due to the weak position of the government is arguable. The issue hasn't gone away, but perhaps the terms of the debate will now have to change. 

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