The European Parliament is expected tomorrow (Dec. 14) to back new rules that could help in the fight against music piracy by obliging telecommunications companies to keep data on customers' phone cal

The European Parliament is expected tomorrow (Dec. 14) to back new rules that could help in the fight against music piracy by obliging telecommunications companies to keep data on customers' phone calls, faxes, e-mails and even text messages for up to two years.

The measures were originally drafted as part of the European Union's efforts to fight terrorism, but European members of parliament in Strasbourg, France, will vote on a broad law that ensures law enforcement authorities will still be able to have access to data in order to pursue copyright violations.

The compromise text covers serious crimes but leaves it up to EU governments to define what that means. The European Arrest Warrant list, which includes piracy, is given by way of guidance: it sets the period of retention from six months to two years.

The music industry has welcomed the proposed Data Retention Directive. "We intervened on this proposal to ensure that our Internet anti-piracy activities at national level were not hampered," IFPI regional director Europe Frances Moore said. "Everything depends on Wednesday's vote in the European Parliament, but if the latest compromise holds we will have achieved our objective."

The proposed directive picked up support from EU governments and the European Commission after the Madrid train bombings in March 2004, when phone and Internet records were used to track terrorists. By July this year, when bombers attacked London, a data-retention law became one of the British government's top priorities in its role as president of the EU's rotating presidency.

Many businesses are skeptical of the new measure, saying that saving data will be expensive and will clog up their databases. Telecommunication companies, Internet service providers and cable companies have joined forces to try to persuade European members of parliament to vote against the law. "We urge the European Parliament to address our points so that a viable agreement can be reached," said a joint-statement signed by the European Competitive Telecommunications Assn.; the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Assn.; the European Internet Service Providers Assn., EuroISPA; the mobile phone association, GSM Europe; and the European Cable Communications Assn.

Civil liberty groups have also complained, saying the law threatens privacy rights, which are safeguarded under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The law requires phone companies to keep such information as the time of phone calls or fax transmissions, the numbers of incoming and outgoing calls and the duration of the calls. The measures aim to harmonize rules on how long data is held and the type of data. Until now, EU data protection laws allow companies to store this information only as long as it is needed for billing purposes (usually a month or two).

Leaders from the Parliament's two biggest political groups -- the conservative People's Party and the Socialists -- have already hammered out a deal with EU government representatives so the vote is expected to sail through. If so, the legislation could be adopted as soon as it is confirmed by EU justice ministers by the end of the year.

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