Law to come into effect before year's end.

The Italian Senate on Tuesday (Nov. 29) passed the controversial Ex-Cirielli Bill, which, by reducing the statute of limitations in trials for a broad range of crimes, threatens to debilitate the country's war on music piracy.

The Ex-Cirielli is expected to be signed into law by president of the Italian Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi before the end of the year. As previously reported, it was passed by the Italian parliament's lower chamber on Nov. 9.

Industry bodies FIMI and the IFPI, and representatives of Italy's film, fashion and software industries, have fiercely protested the law.

Under Italy's notoriously convoluted legal system, cases often take many years before a definitive verdict is reached. The Ex-Cirielli reduces the statute of limitations in a range of cases which carry maximum terms of four years or less-including intellectual property violation and some corruption cases-from seven-and-a half years to six.

FIMI estimates that 80% of the 471 pending prosecutions launched prior to the end of 2004 will have to be dropped because of the Ex-Cirielli. A similar number of 2005 cases also face being scrapped.

"If the wheels of justice were working more efficiently and more smoothly, this law would have less impact on us," IFPI chairman/CEO John Kennedy tells Billboard.biz. "It's because the process is so slow and so painful that this new law has such an impact."

The reasons for passing the Ex-Cirielli are unconnected to piracy issues. Opponents had nicknamed it the "Save Previti," on the grounds that it was originally intended to help prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's lawyer and personal friend Cesare Previti avoid a prison sentence, by reducing the statute of limitations in trials for assorted crimes.

"This is the end of Italy's war on music piracy," says FIMI president Enzo Mazza in a statement. He adds that 80% of current piracy trials would be brought to a stop, which is "somewhat ironic in a country which claims to be believe in 'Made in Italy' products."