A plan by the European Parliament to restrict the power of national governments to disconnect illegal filesharers has been dumped to win agreement on new telecoms competition laws.
Long-running negotiations over the EU Telecoms Package were completed last night when MEPs agreed to drop amendments that would have made internet access a fundamental right.
The proposed measure would have made it difficult for national governments to implement "three strikes" enforcement regimes against those who persistently share copyright material. It required judicial oversight of such action, which would have made it expensive and impractical.
The parliament's stance set up a clash with the member states that make up the EU Council, who objected to national law being dictated by the European Parliament.
After months of negotiations, the agreed package now demands only "appropriate, proportionate and necessary" measures can be taken to enforce copyright. There must be a possibility of judicial review for those disconnected, but not automatic court oversight.
Nevertheless, the European Commission, which originally proposed the Telecoms Package and will get new regulatory powers as a result, hailed last night's agreement as a victory for consumers.
Viviane Reding, the telecoms commissioner, said: "The new internet freedom provision represents a great victory for the rights and freedoms of European citizens.
"The debate between Parliament and Council has also clearly shown that we need find new, more modern and more effective ways in Europe to protect intellectual property and artistic creation. The promotion of legal offers, including across borders, should become a priority for policy makers."
The Parliament's amendment to the telecoms package was subject to one of the most intensive lobbying campaigns seen at the EU. The record and film industries were allied with the UK government in calling for it to be dumped.
On the other side civil liberties and consumer groups battled to push the amendment through.
Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, which is campaigning against imminent UK legislation that will target illegal filesharers, said today: "With heavy government pressure, this is not unexpected, but it is disappointing."
He said provisions in the agreed package could still offer some hope to the group's campaign.
"This could still pose problems for Mandelson, as his proposals still look like relying on poor evidence, and therefore will be pushing people to admit guilt when they are in fact innocent. This wouldn't fit well with the current text, which has a heavy emphasis on fair procedures."
It's expected that the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill, which will be in the Queen's Speech on 18 November, will detail the UK enforcement regime. Lord Mandelson has said he supports suspension of internet access as a punishment for the most persistent illegal filesharers.
ISPs are also campaigning against the forthcoming legislation, which will likely require they get formally warn their customers when they are detected infringing copyright via peer-to-peer networks. ®
This is the agreed text of the relevant amendment:
Any of these measures regarding end-users' access to or use of service and applications through electronic communications networks liable to restrict those fundamental rights or freedoms may only be imposed if they are appropriate, proportionate and necessary within a democratic society, and their implementation shall be subject to adequate procedural safeguards in conformity with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and with general principles of Community law, including effective judicial protection and due process.
Accordingly, these measures may only be taken with due respect for the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. A prior fair and impartial procedure shall be guaranteed, including the right to be heard of the person or persons concerned subject to the need for appropriate conditions and procedural arrangements in duly substantiated cases of urgency in conformity with European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The right to an effective and timely judicial review shall be guaranteed.