Copyright pirates linked to criminal gangs face minimum penalties of up to four years in jail and fines of €300,000 ($366,000) under proposals unveiled July 12 by the European Commission.


BRUSSELS -- Copyright pirates linked to criminal gangs face minimum penalties of up to four years in jail and fines of €300,000 ($366,000) under proposals unveiled July 12 by the European Commission.

The commission -- the European Union's executive authority -- said the trade in pirate and counterfeit DVDs, CDs, software and other goods was dominated by criminal organizations, which were able to produce and ship items on an industrial scale.

Franco Frattini, commission VP in charge of justice, freedom and security, said the new effort "forms a basic platform underpinning our joint efforts to eradicate these phenomena which are undermining the economy."

The four-year minimum jail term is much harsher than that on the statute books in most EU member countries. Frattini said the criminal groups now investing in these activities find that they are more lucrative than other types of trafficking, but the crimes still carry light penalties. "Counterfeiters and pirates jeopardize legitimate businesses and threaten innovation," he said.

The proposals intend to treat all deliberate infringements of intellectual property rights on a commercial scale as a criminal offense. The proposals need to be backed by all 25 EU member countries before they are adopted.

In February, the commission estimated counterfeit goods in the EU to be worth about €400 billion ($488 billion), with DVDs, CDs and cassettes representing about a third of all items seized by EU authorities.

Thailand was the biggest supplier of pirated DVDs, CDs and cassettes to Europe during this period, accounting for 18% of the seizures, followed by Malaysia (14%), Pakistan (13%) and China (8%). Pakistan is a relative newcomer, but officials say the country is catching up fast.