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New changes to intellectual property law unlikely to please

Websites that publish links to copyrighted content could soon be the target of legal action

Websites that publish links to copyrighted content hosted elsewhere could soon be the target of legal action, as part of one of the most striking new items in the draft partial reform of the Intellectual Property Law (LPI), which was approved on Friday by the Cabinet.

If the reform makes it through parliament, it could go into force toward the end of the year, according to sources at the Culture State Secretary's Office.

Only then will a government unit - known as the Second Section of the Intellectual Property Committee, created by the LPI - be entitled to shut down sites that violate copyright laws, and only then if a complaint is filed.

The question that now remains is what exactly constitutes a website that links to copyrighted content - or better yet, what does not. The document talks about webpages "whose main activity is to facilitate, specifically and massively, the location of works and services that are indexed and offered without authorization."

Yet the next line includes an exception to this rule for Google and other search engines, which make a business of redirecting traffic to other sites.

If anybody still harbored doubts over this latter issue, Culture Minister José Ignacio Wert cleared them up on Friday. "Under no circumstance do these pages [search engines] base their business on violating intellectual property rights," he said.

He then added: "We took international legislation as a basis for ours," a statement that raised eyebrows among members of the Spanish Association of Newspaper Publishers (and book publishers, and recording companies), which have long been demanding a "German-type" law that includes payments to content companies by the search giant.

The reform also considers going after companies that advertise on these link sites, and establishes fines ranging from 30,000 to 300,000 euros for serious offenders - those who repeatedly refuse to remove illegal content.

The truth is, many parties with an interest in copyright legislation seemed unhappy about the new reform. Certainly, the track record does not offer too much hope: the Second Section of the committee has only resolved 30 cases in the 12 months it has been operational (and 10 more in the last couple of weeks, according to committee supervisors). The draft reform envisions more resources for this body, yet nobody at the Culture Ministry was able to specify last Friday the how, the when, and most crucially how much money will be earmarked for the committee.

The lawmakers who wrote the reform are already talking about "a before and after in relations between management agencies and the government" thanks to the fine system.

But since late last year, nearly a dozen draft reforms have been leaked to the press, all of which have drawn protests given that lawmakers failed to consult with the parties involved.

Just half-an-hour after the cabinet passed the latest reform ideas, the eight management agencies issued a joint release forecasting that the legislative changes "will seriously hurt citizens and will considerably benefit technology multinationals."