France, Finland, Spain and the Czech Republic could face hefty fines for failing to implement a 2001 law offering copyright protection for music, movies and software, the European Commission revealed


BRUSSELS (The Hollywood Reporter) -- France, Finland, Spain and the Czech Republic could face hefty fines for failing to implement a 2001 law offering copyright protection for music, movies and software, the European Commission revealed July 13.

The European Union's executive authority said it has launched infringement proceedings against the four countries over the Copyright Directive, which was to have been implemented Dec. 22, 2002.

The Copyright Directive was drawn up to improve protection across the EU in the digital environment. It allows companies selling digital content to defend their products with copy-protection technology and makes it illegal for anyone to circumvent such technology.

While the film, music and software industry can do little to prevent consumers using the present generation of video players and tape recorders as they wish, the rules are meant to ensure future technologies are designed with built-in restrictions on how, when and where the products are used.

Industry observers have criticized the directive for being too draconian. Article 6, covering "technical protection measures," could make liable for criminal prosecution anyone trying to avoid copy restriction measures, such as DVD region locks. Consumers groups said it meant a few film and music conglomerates have control of all new technologies for recording or playing copyrighted material.

France and Finland have been sent "reasoned opinions" demanding that they comply immediately with earlier rulings by the European Court of Justice on the issue. If Paris and Helsinki fail to respond, a daily fine can be imposed.

Spain has already indicated that it will comply, so the commission's informal letter to Madrid asked the government how it intended to do so. The Czech Republic only became an EU member in May 2004, and so the government was sent a letter of formal notice -- the first stage of court proceedings -- asking it to provide full information on its implementation of the law.

The law has been controversial and complicated. By the time all of the then 15 member states were due to implement it in December 2002, only Greece and Denmark had done so. Most of the others needed a few more months.