The European Commission was branded a pawn of the music industry for demonizing individuals downloading digital music, European consumer lobby BEUC said Thursday (Nov. 10).

The European Commission was branded a pawn of the music industry for demonizing individuals downloading digital music, European consumer lobby BEUC said Thursday (Nov. 10).

While recognizing the problem of piracy, the group said the Commission -- the European Union's executive authority -- had accepted the language of big music companies who portray private consumers as criminals or terrorists.

Speaking in Brussels, BEUC director Jim Murray warned that the music industry was pressing for even more "draconian laws" from the Commission in order to deny consumers the rights that they enjoy in other domains.

Murray was speaking as BEUC launched a campaign aimed at defending consumer rights in the digital environment. The campaign calls on the entertainment industry to drop legal action against peer-to-peer downloaders, and to allow the market to find solutions for the on-line development of audiovisual distribution.

"The industry insists on 'informing', or rather 'misinforming' consumers on what they cannot do in the digital world,” said Murray. “We believe it is high time to guarantee consumers certain basic rights in the digital world and to tell them what they can do with their digital hardware and content.”

BEUC said that new technologies were being used under the guise of Digital Rights Management to limit or prohibit perfectly legitimate practices. The industry hid behind the artists that it claimed to defend, whilet alienating their fans and supporters, the group added.

"We know that there is a serious global problem of piracy," the group said. "On the other hand, private consumers are not criminals or terrorists and the industry must stop portraying them as such."

BEUC also argued that the lack of interoperability of systems and practices such as copy-protecting CDs, placing regional restrictions on DVDs and installing spyware on users' computers that report back on their Internet usage all infringe on consumers' rights to privacy, choice and technological neutrality. "When we buy a book we are not told that we can only read it once or that we cannot lend it to a friend" BEUC said, "yet this is what is happening with digital material."