Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Debate Goes On, But The Government Isn't Listening

Maybe I was being hopelessly optimistic when I thought that the emerging debate around the Ley Sinde was going to influence the outcome. The Spanish government spent much of yesterday in frantic last minute negotiations with the Partido Popular to resuscitate in the Senate what they had lost in the main chamber. The claim is that the new version of the law agreed with the PP offers more guarantees against the arbitrary closure of web sites accused of violating intellectual property rights, but this claim is hotly disputed by opponents of the law.

The reality is that the changes agreed do not substantially alter the nature of the legislation. The decision to proceed against a web site will still be an administrative one taken by a government appointed committee, with the role of the judicial system reduced to certifying that no breach of fundamental rights has taken place. The new version also contains some very dangerous ambiguous wording, allowing for the existence of a site to be placed under threat solely on the basis of an alleged "susceptibility" to cause financial harm to a claimant. This ambiguity opens the door wide to abuse of the new powers. 

The two main Spanish parties have continued to defend a model of intellectual property legislation which has been written in the interests of the large entertainment companies who seek to defend at all costs a model of doing business which is becoming unsustainable. The industry is being offered a bypass of the judicial system which is available to no one else with a grievance to pursue. Both the PP and the governing PSOE are demonstrating whose interests they act in here, with the recent Wikileaks revelations having shown strong pressure from the US government for Spain to crack down in this way. The PP, which has contrived to find a way to oppose every other government measure makes an exception when it comes to defending big business interests.

So what happened to the attempts to find common ground between representatives of the industry and opponents of the law? It was going quite well, despite occasional misunderstandings and disruptive efforts. A sign of how well it was going is that film director Alex de la Iglesia announced today his resignation as president of the Spanish cinema academy in protest at the way in which the government and the PP had just decided to ignore the constructive discussions that were taking place. No longer can they claim that the Ley Sinde has the full backing of the artists affected by piracy, there is a now a clear division of opinion between those who look forward and search for a new model to support creative work and those who simply try to hang on to the way things were before the internet.

It's all a sign that neither of Spain's major parties really understands the internet, except as a platform for propaganda or something which they need to try and control. The PP recently asserted the bizarre position that the data on Spanish citizens held by different internet companies should be treated as being part of Spanish territory and be held on servers based in Spain. They don't understand it. The politicians have treated all non-industry opinion on the intellectual rights issue with absolute contempt, and it's clearly going to take a bit more than people getting angry on Twitter to make them rethink their position. 

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