The war on music piracy in Italy has undergone a serious setback following the passing of the Ex-Cirielli "Save Previti" Law by the parliament's lower house. The law, approved Wednesday (Nov. 9), is y

The war on music piracy in Italy has undergone a serious setback following the passing of the Ex-Cirielli "Save Previti" Law by the parliament's lower house.

The law, approved Wednesday (Nov. 9), is yet to be passed by the Italian Senate. However, with prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's government coalition enjoying a large majority, its passage is expected to be a formality in the coming week.

The law effectively cuts the statute of limitations in criminal cases from seven-and-a-half to six years. In Italy, court cases are notoriously slow and can take up to nine years. At least 382 of the 471 music piracy cases pending in 2004 are expected to be automatically cancelled, the IFPI estimates, with a similar scenario likely for 2005.

The law deals a "huge blow to the Italian music industry and to all intellectual property industries in the country," says IFPI chairman/CEO John Kennedy in a statement. "The bill is inconsistent with international rules of enforcement for IP and will put Italy out of line with other developed countries." He adds that the bill totally "undermines our ability to fight piracy in a nation with one of the highest rates of piracy in the developed world."

Enzo Mazza, president of both industry body FIMI and anti-piracy organization, FPM, says the controversial situation will have far-reaching impact. "This law has consequences for Italian life that go beyond the fight against piracy. Just about every jurist and legal expert in the country is opposed to it," he says.

The law has been nicknamed the "Save Previti Law" in reference of Cesare Previti, a former Italian defence minister (and personal friend of Berlusconi) who was found guilty of bribery and corruption. Opponents of the law see it as an ad hoc measure designed by Berlusconi to help a friend in need, but which at the same time effectively ends the rule of law in Italy.

Mazza remains upbeat. "The law is so controversial that there's a possibility that the President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, won't sign it into law, or that the constitutional court will reject it. That is our last chance at this stage."