New Spanish Government Enacts Digital Anti-Piracy Law

MADRID, Spain—In only its second cabinet meeting after taking power Dec. 22, Spain's brand new right-leaning government has green-lit a law intended to deal a severe blow to digital piracy by allowing the courts to close or block websites accused of profiting from the illegal downloading of copyrighted content. Spain is reportedly responsible for 20 percent of the global illegal downloads of the top 10 films from 2010, and the embrace of this new law is intended to signal a dramatic change of heart for a country accused of having a "horrendous" track-record enforcing copyright.

"Spanish courts have repeatedly ruled against the entertainment industry arguing webpages don't offer copyrighted content, but links to connect to servers located in countries immune to Western legislation," stated earlier this month. "Furthermore, these indexing pages—as they are commonly known—also serve for legal exchanges, and judges have ruled freedom of expression trumps others considerations."

The so-called Sinde Law—named after outgoing Culture Minister Ángeles González-Sinde—was actually passed by the Spanish Parliament in February, but former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Socialist government failed to enact the specific regulations that would inform it and it was never implemented.

Zapatero took the blame, stating, "In view of the debate, it was my decision. There were some cabinet ministers, as well as an uproar taking place on the web, that put into question approval [of the antipiracy rules] by a caretaker government, even if the [government-elect] had been told."

The new center-right government wasted no time in enacting the law, however, passing it Friday evening after having been in office for less than a week. The law, which, according to news reports, gives websites "ten days to close down their sites after a government committee identifies reports of violations and gains backing from a judge on a case by case basis," went into effect immediately upon its approval by the new government.

As historic as the new law may be for Spain, the version that passed was considered so watered down from an earlier version being considered that the prominent Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia resigned in February as president of the Spanish Film Academy. His main complaint was that the new law extended the takedown period from 48 hours to about two weeks, and that a digital canon that was to have been imposed on electronic purchases and earmarked for copyright owners to make up for lost revenue was stripped from the bill. 

According to the Hollywood Reporter, "Critics argued [the digital canon's] unconstitutionality in addition to claiming it confused the public into thinking it was acceptable to download illegally since they had paid a tax."