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EU Votes to Toughen Rules on Internet Piracy

Members of the European Parliament have opened the door to tough new sanctions on Internet users by voting in favor of a controversial report on copyright enforcement.

The non-legislative text, drafted by French center-right MEP Marielle Gallo, was adopted by 328 to 245 votes, leaving the way clear for the European Commission to come up with new legislation imposing criminal sanctions across the European Union. France has already criminalized the sharing of copyright files without permission.

The report calls for more coordination and tighter legislation for the protection of copyrighted material online and says that the existing legal framework has proven 'incapable' in this regard.

Critics of the report are extremely concerned that this will allow national authorities to clamp down on private individuals downloading content for non-commercial purposes rather than targeting criminal groups.

However many E.U. member states are in favor of more hardline laws -- the so-called 'three strikes' rule, which would see Internet users' connections cut off if they are caught illegally file-sharing. Ireland has already adopted this approach after the country's main Internet service provider, Eircom, was put under legal pressure by IRMA, the music rights group. France's version of the law, known as Hadopi, and the UK's Digital Economy law are not yet being enforced as the authorities wait to see what other member states decide.

Civil liberties groups and other critics of the report claim that it puts the interests of big business before individuals' rights.

"The Gallo report is an illustration of the will of the entertainment industry to try to impose private copyright police. Repressive schemes such as the 'three strikes' policies and other Internet access restrictions negate fundamental rights, such as the right to a fair trial, the freedom of communication or the right to privacy," said Jérémie Zimmermann, founder of the advocacy group La Quadrature du Net, a vocal opponent of the report. The group called for citizens to take action against the move by contacting their MEPs to protest.

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