Spain plans prison terms for providers of pirated web content

Administrators of download-access sites may face up to six years

An internet user downloads books on to their laptop. / LUIS SEVILLANO

Spain is for the first time to introduce prison sentences for the owners or administrators of websites that provide links to copyrighted material on external pages, infringing intellectual property laws.

Current Spanish legislation only provides for sentences of up to four years for people who "reproduce, plagiarize, distribute or pass on" copyrighted material without the consent of the author. Sites that simply provide links to second-party providers of content have previously been immune from prosecution.

The upcoming reform of the penal code, which is expected to be approved shortly by the Cabinet, will include jail terms of between six months and six years for the offense, as well as allowing for the removal of protected material and the closure of websites providing it.

The proposal, drafted by the Justice Ministry, has led to heated debate between the Interior Ministry — under pressure from internet operators seeking a softer law — and the Culture Ministry, which is besieged by artists seeking to stem the hemorrhage in their incomes.

The United States had placed Spain on its internet piracy blacklist in 2008 due to the high number of illegal downloads being made. However, it removed Spain last year when the Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy pushed through tougher legislation that had been included in the so-called Sinde Law, named after former Culture Minister Ángeles González-Sinde, which allowed for the closure of websites offering copyrighted content. The Sinde law was introduced by the former Socialist government, but the necessary enabling regulations were not put into place until the PP came into power.

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