The enactment of Italy's "Decreto Urbani" (Urbani decree) on copyright was greeted by a hackers' revolt on May 24. The decree, named after its sponsor, culture minister Giuliano Urbani, imposes stiff

MILAN -- The enactment of Italy's "Decreto Urbani" (Urbani decree) on copyright was greeted by a hackers' revolt on May 24. The decree, named after its sponsor, culture minister Giuliano Urbani, imposes stiff sanctions on illegal file-sharers.

To express their displeasure, hackers managed to put the Web sites of collecting society SIAE, the Italian parliament, Urbani's own ministry of culture and the ministry of tax collection out of action for several hours.

Italy's music industry, on the other hand, responded favorably to the new legislation.

Luca Vespignani, secretary general of anti-piracy body FPM, tells ELW, "As far as we're concerned, the reaction of the hackers shows that the new law is effective, even if it has been the subject of considerable misinformation. It's simply not true, as some newspapers and politicians have claimed, that innocent kids will now go to prison if they get caught downloading files.

"The decree makes a clear distinction between illegal downloaders, who face fines of 154 euros ($188), and illegal uploaders, who put material up on the Web. It is the latter who could receive prison sentences of between six months and three years."

The Urbani decree modifies Italy's existing copyright legislation (law 633 of 1941, law 248 of 2000 and the country's application, in 2003, of the EU Copyright Directive) in three ways. The key element, acccording to Vespignani, is that it extends punishment for copyright infringement from those who do it for "financial gain" to those who do it "for profit." Says Vespignani: "The phrase 'for financial gain' meant that you couldn't be prosecuted if you simply shared an illegal file, as there was technically no money involved. 'For profit,' on the other hand, means doing something in order to save money, which is what happens when files are distributed for free."

The new legislation also includes an obligation on the part of service providers to state that all contents are legally registered. The law also extends SIAE's private-copying levy, which was previously limited to blank CD-Rs, to software and to "mass memory" technology such as computer hard drives. The levies are at the rate of 0.36 euros (43 cents) per gigabyte of memory and, in the case of audio and video software, 3% of list price.

As with most legislation, the Urbani decree underwent modification in the committee stage. The original draft imposed stiff sanctions on illegal file-sharers of film material but was lenient on music and software; this was subsequently altered. The new version was passed by the Senate on May 19 and became law five days later when it was published in the official legislative "Gazzette."

In its passage through the Senate, the decree was supported by Urbani's colleagues in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government coalition; left-wing opposition parties either voted against it or abstained.

Although the decree puts Italy ahead of several of its neighbors in terms of file-sharing legislation, enforcement is another matter. Even if sentenced, it is thought to be highly unlikely that "uploaders" would do jail time.