Spain Begins Implementing Anti-Piracy Sinde Laws Amidst Controversy

Spain Begins Implementing Anti-Piracy Sinde Laws Amidst Controversy


Bajui.com is one of eight sites being targeted by Spain's new Sinde Laws for having copyrighted material on their site.

After two years fighting popular and legal challenges, Spain took the offensive and began targeting online piracy with an unexpected shock and awe show of force using the new Sinde Law that even some of its staunchest critics are calling "more dangerous than anticipated."

The antipiracy law went into effect in March and since then 326 complaints have been filed, the Culture Ministry said in a statement last week. Of those, eight infringement cases so far are being pursued and 75 more are under review.

The other 243 were rejected, a number that coincides with a well planed public disobedience campaign that sought to overwhelm the newly created bureaucracy. The Culture Ministry simply said the complaints were incomplete.

Meet Spain's Eme Navarro, The Man Who Generated 210 Piracy Complaints Against His Own Song

The government started issuing orders to remove indexed links to peer to peer download and streaming sites three weeks ago, only after the Supreme Court had rejected an injunction request against the Sinde Law, but it was only last week that some of the targeted websites went public.

The sites had 48 hours to remove the content or to appeal, depending on the case, under the threat of hefty fines and shutdowns. The deadline has expired, but there have been no reported punitive actions yet.

In what is being interpreted as a test run, the government hasn't yet targeted the worst offenders or the most pirated content. The results have been effective, though. The Culture Ministry wouldn't comment, but in a statement said some sites had voluntarily removed copyrighted content or cancelled targeted domains.

Moreover, one popular website deactivated links to copyrighted content; online activists and downloaders acknowledged they could do little to defend against the law, and the popular resistance was all but muted.

New Spanish Gov't Enacts Sinde Anti-Piracy Laws, Opponents Promise A Fight

And while more legal challenges to the Sinde Law were announced and downloading itself remains unscathed, it's clear that the government has at the very least made it a lot less attractive for websites in Spain to make money from online piracy.

The United States government removed Spain from its "watch list" in its 2012 antipiracy report issued in April by Trade Representative Ronald Kirk. " In recognition of recent efforts" with respect to copyright protection and enforcement, the report said, "The United States applauds Spain's adoption of regulations implementing the 'Ley Sinde.' [Sinde Law]"

Market-research firm Nielsen estimates around 45% of internet users in Spain regularly visit pages offering links to protected music and film material, compared to around 25% in the biggest European markets.

Until the Sinde Law went into effect, copyright cases went to court and were mostly dropped because Spanish law demands that websites be properly -- and legally -- notified, a lengthy process that rendered enforcement useless.

The government closed the loophole with new codes in the Sinde Law that removed courts from the notification process and handed power to a 5-member government-named commission to decide when copyright laws were being infringed with the clear intent of profiting illegally from piracy .

Telefonica's Terra From Spain to Offer Legal Music, Film Streaming in Europe

The eight cases opened so far effectively notified web sites and their intermediaries of copyright infringement. One of those notified, Bajui.com, has had two different courts drop cases against it in the past, but it is among the eight cases targeted by Sinde.

David Bravo, one of Spain's most vocal critics of Sinde and also the lawyer representing Bajui's domain owner, wrote last week that the new law "is more dangerous than anticipated." The site was ordered to remove links to the album "Un Ramo de Rosas" by Luz Casal, a popular pop singer in the 80s and 90s, that were uploaded on a Swiss server.

One of the government's successful tactics, Mr. Bravo wrote, is that the procedures were filed against the Swiss server and his client was only notified as an intermediary. Under the Sinde Law, intermediaries don't have the right to appeal procedures and must obey or face penalties of between 150,000 and 600,000 euros.

Furthermore, Mr. Bravo wrote, the law makes the site liable if the link, once removed, is again uploaded abrogating laws both European and Spanish courts have ruled must be limited in scope and time. Anti-Sinde Law advocates promise to appeal on these grounds.

Another site, Cinetube.es, a site indexing copyrighted content, had a court dismiss a case against it in February for not being properly notified. The site posted a warning saying all download links had been disabled "for reasons that will soon be revealed." The site had a notary certify preemptively that it did not have any links to copyrighted material, but the government still opened a procedure against it.

The pending legal battle is being waged by civil liberty and freedom of speech advocates who argue that their rights would be infringed without judicial oversight.

Spanish Court Dismisses Case Against Major P2P Site

Last Saturday, the owners of Vagos.es, a popular forum to exchange and link content, some it copyrighted, also voluntarily removed all content from its site and posted a press release. Mirroring other pages like Bajui.com, the firm Wamba Projects, said it was studying "how to adapt the page to the new political and judicial reality."

The company also said it had backed up its content before removing it all, but insisted it doesn't have any protected content on the site. It also listed more than 10 web sites that have won copyright cases in court.

The Supreme Court in late-May dismissed as "inadmissible" a request for an injunction and for a broader review of the law lodged in February by the Association of Web Users. "Not a single reason was given for it," the ruling read.

Lawyers defending targeted web sites have said they will appeal the decision at the European level, but in the meantime there appears to be little to stop Spain from enforcing the Sinde Law.

Still, most public complaints came from downloaders themselves. In web forums and postings, they acknowledge they are helpless and exchanged suggestions of where to access content. "This doesn't look good," one wrote. "I see a bleak future," another said. And many called for patience and "courage."

Many of the sites and online activists though remained mostly silent to the government's strategy, although AEDE, an association representing print media that supported the Sinde Law, was hacked. "You've given your opinion. Annonimous uses the weapons at our disposal to give ours," the hacked page said.

The bigger test could come when the government targets the most popular indexing sites, like SeriesYonkis.es, which has created several mirror sites, including seriescoco.com and serieskiwi.com, adding more layers of bureaucracy.

The Sinde Law is also limited in its scope because it only targets websites with the obvious intent of profiting illegally from copyrighted content, not downloaders.