Four Spanish collecting societies have dismissed a report by the district attorney's office's advisory body, the Fiscal Council, which gives a damning assessment of the government's proposed anti-download legislation.

The Fiscal Council's non-binding report on Feb. 16 said the proposal to set up an administrative Intellectual Property Commission with the power to propose the closure of Web sites that offer download links to unauthorized content, "has an enormous potential to invade the sphere of fundamental rights."

In that sense, the Council shares the view of a growing number of business and Internet user groups, such as RedSOStenible.net, who argue that the proposed legislation to protect intellectual property infringes other basic rights.

Even culture minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, who proposed the new legislation, commented that the Council report was "very valuable and constructive."

But the four collecting societies, who have created an organization called Ibercrea precisely to defend the proposed anti-piracy legislation, said Feb. 17 that "the evaluation on the degree of protection towards intellectual property rights is a mere opinion of the Fiscal Council."

Ibercrea said this "opinion... in our view collides with the protection of creation enshrined in the Spanish Constitution."

The Council's report said it was "doubtful" that protection of intellectual property "should be put at the same level" as fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, public security, national defense, public health or non-discrimination on grounds of race, sex or religion.

The report points out that the proposed legislation "is limited to cases where the service provider is established in Spain or in a State of the European Union."

This confirms warnings from RedSOStenible.net that when sites with a Spanish domain are closed, other identical sites would emerge in countries outside the EU, "for which reason the problem will not be solved."

The government is understood to be considering a way of prohibiting access to these future sites from Spain. Asked about this, the president of the Internet Users Association (AI), Victor Domingo, said "I hope they will not dare try that."

Meanwhile, Ibercrea has admitted that it held an unannounced meeting at the Madrid HQ of main opposition party, the right-wing Popular Party (PP), as part of preparations to present formally a new collecting society association to confront growing pressures to change the country's intellectual property law (LPI).

Ibercrea was created shortly before the Feb. 10 meeting, which was leaked by the daily La Razon. This in turn followed an unprecedented attack on Spain's eight collecting societies by the CNC national competition commission.

The CNC is dependent on the economy ministry, and its 100-page report accused the collecting societies of acting as a "monopoly" which charges "unfair and/or discriminatory tariffs and obstruct the activities of [Internet] users, both those that operate in traditional markets, as well as those that exploit online works". Ibercrea accused the CNC of defending "hidden interests."

In practice, the CNC has joined a growing chorus calling for a revision of the 1987 Intellectual Property Law. An intellectual property sub-commission is to advise the Congress (lower house) on whether a reform of the law is necessary, following meetings this month with collecting societies, gadget manufacturers, radio associations, hotel and restaurant groups, consumers' associations, and online services such as Google.

Google España director of institutional relations, Barbara Navarro, told the sub-commission that Spain needed "a consistent and strong intellectual property law with a vision of the future" which protects authors' rights, but also allows the development of new business models on Internet.

The existing LPI was first called into question after the government proposed, on Jan. 8, controversial anti-download legislation as part of a future Sustainable Economy Law. The legislation would allow a non-judicial intellectual property commission to propose the closure of Web sites that offered download links to unauthorized content.

Early criticism of the proposal also focused on the supposed dangers of allowing a non-judicial body of independent analysts to close Web sites or remove access to links, but the government has now said that the commission's proposals would have to be confirmed and executed by the country's High Court.

While the Sustainable Economy Law, which is set to be debated in Parliament later this year, offers a partial revision of the intellectual property law, many of those opposed to any limitation of "freedom" in Internet want a full revision of the law. This would include a new legal definition of the role of Spain's eight collecting societies.

"This is not a law against violations of intellectual property, it is a law against civil rights," said Fernando Berlin, creator of Web site RadioCable.net, and one of the promoters of RedSOStenible.net, which consists of bloggers, businessmen, and Internet user activist groups.

Julio Alonso, founder of Weblogs.net, said the creation of RedSOStenible.net was positive because "two things are necessary now - to make people aware that this is about civil liberties and not illegal downloads, and to create a pressure lobby."

Lawyer Javier de la Cueva said "it is abnormal that a commission dependent on the culture ministry should decide what is legal or illegal in Internet. That should de decided by the justice department, that is why it exists."

Any eventual law against piracy, illegal downloading or P2P file-sharing would be the first such legislation in Spain. Until now, courts have thrown out the few cases of piracy that have reached them, on the grounds that such practices are illegal only if there is a profit motive.