'Previti Law' could wipe music piracy cases.

Italy's on-going war on musical piracy will face a severe setback if the Berlusconi government passes a controversial piece of legislation, industry executives warn.

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's proposed new Bill of Law is designed to reduce the prescription period for a number of minor crimes carrying jail sentences of between three and four years.

Opponents and some government politicians refer to the bill as the Legge Salva-Previti (Save Previti Law) in reference to senator Cesare Previti, a lawyer for Berlusconi and former government minister who has been handed a jail sentence for bribery. Opponents of the law see it as being a piece of "made-to-measure" legislation for Berlusconi's beleaguered friend and colleague.

Given the slowness of most Italian law cases (defendants have to be declared guilty in three separate trials before judgment is finally passed), critics see the Save Previti Law as providing carte blanche for offenders. The law would cancel about half of 3,000 cases currently being presented before Italy's highest appeals courts.

Enzo Mazza, president of both FIMI, the representative body of Italy's major record labels, and FPM, the country's anti-musical piracy body, tells Billboard.biz that the situation is of great concern to the industry.

"According to our calculations, the 'Save Previti Law' would lead to 81% of current trials against musical pirates being suspended," Mazza says. Future cases against piracy, he warns, would be compromised by the fact that sentences would be greatly reduced. "The effects on the war on piracy, especially in a country where it is such a widespread phenomenon, would be devastating," Mazza explains.

The bill is expected to be voted on by the Italian senate later this week and by the lower chamber within the next fortnight. It is likely to be passed by the large government coalition, even if Italy's Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura -- a legal institution similar to the Supreme Court -- has declared that the bill, as it stands, is "unconstitutional."

"In the last couple of years we have made considerable progress, getting laws like the EU directive on copyright on the statute books, and all this good work risks going up in smoke," Mazza says. "Needless to say, we are extremely worried."