The European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee voted Tuesday on politically sensitive proposals to fine and jail people or companies that infringe intellectual property rights.

The vote means European members of parliament have backed the first EU directive aiming at harmonizing national criminal law. It follows measures proposed by the European Commission in 2005 requiring all national governments to impose hefty fines or prison sentences on offenders.

Under the IP proposals, member states should punish offenders with at least four years of prison. Fines of between €100,000 ($132,000) and €300,000 ($398,000) would be imposed in cases where criminal organizations were involved or in cases where public health was threatened. Member states could impose heavier penalties if they so wished.

The Commission's venture into the contentious area of criminal lawmaking was prompted by a 2005 judgment at the European Court of Justice allowing community penalties for environmental crimes. Proposals on copycat crime were drafted before a Commission paper published last month setting out proposals for punishing environmental crime.

The law was drafted by Italian socialist Nicola Zingaretti, who said the plan to harmonize criminal codes was "a radical new thing."

If approved by full Parliament and the EU member governments, the proposal would oblige countries to consider as a criminal offence all intentional infringements of an intellectual property right carried out on a commercial scale.