UK quango the National Consumer Council (NCC) has called on European Commission legislators to take a fairer stance on consumer intellectual property rights.
The NCC believes it's disproportionate to invoke ever-tougher penalties for individuals found guilty of infringing intellectual property laws. The key word is 'individuals', because the NCC sees a clear difference between consumers copying content and "organised criminal gangs" doing the same.
There is a difference - the latter are motivated solely by financial gain while consumers generally aren't. At the same time, because technology has made it so easy for consumer to duplicate content, the effect on copyright holders is increasingly the same whoever does the copying.
"The European Commission must think again before bringing in new and tougher intellectual property laws," said the NCC's policy director Jill Johnstone. "Criminal sanctions for infringing copyright holders' rights must be applied only to organised crime - not to individual citizens making use of new technologies."
"Moves are afoot in Brussels to tighten up enforcement of intellectual property laws," she added. "It could mean consumers facing criminal sanctions and a criminal record for sharing creative content."
Alas, just as the EC is failing to differentiate between pirates and those who copy for convenience - which we think are the people the NCC has in mind: those folk who copy CDs so they can also play songs in the car, say - the NCC similarly fails to appreciate there's a difference between a consumer who engages in what might be termed a 'fair use' and another who posts thousands upon thousands of new songs for anyone and everyone to plunder.
"Any new laws must be very clear on this point and must strike a balance between right holders’ interests in getting a fair return and the public and consumer interests of fair access and use, and the encouragement of innovation," added Johnstone.
Her language puts her dangerously close to the techno-utopian camp, but still Johnstone and the NCC are correct on at least one point: future EC legislation does need to define closely what is reasonable copying - ripping a CD so you can play it on your iPod, an act currently illegal in the UK though not in some other European countries - and making it possible for anyone to steal music. In short, there needs to be a clear distinction made between the private and public domains. ®