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US Threatened To Blacklist Spain For Not Implementing Site Blocking Law


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In a leaked letter sent to Spain’s outgoing President, the US ambassador to the country warned that as punishment for not passing a SOPA-style file-sharing site blocking law, Spain risked being put on a United States trade blacklist . Inclusion would have left Spain open to a range of “retaliatory options” but already the US was working with the incoming government to reach its goals.

United States government interference in Spain’s intellectual property laws had long been suspected, but it was revelations from Wikileaks that finally confirmed the depth of its involvement.

More than 100 leaked cables showed that the US had helped draft new Spanish copyright legislation and had heavily influenced the decisions of both the government and opposition.

Now, another diplomatic leak has revealed how the US voiced its anger towards outgoing President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero last month upon realizing that his government was unlikely to pass the US-drafted Sinde (site blocking) Law before leaving office.

In a letter dated December 12th and sent by US Ambassador Alan D. Solomont to the Spanish Prime Minister’s office, the US expressed “deep concern” over the failure to implement the SOPA-style censorship law.

“The government has unfortunately failed to finish the job for political reasons, to the detriment of the reputation and economy of Spain,” read the letter obtained by El Pais.

Racing against the clock in the final days of the government, Solomont had one last push.

“I encourage the Government of Spain to implement the Sinde Law immediately to safeguard the reputation of Spain as an innovative country that does what it says it will, and as a country that breeds confidence,” he wrote.

But along with the pleas came the stick.

In the letter, which was also sent to Minister of Culture Ángeles González-Sinde after whom the law is named, Solomont noted that Spain is already on the Special 301, the annual report prepared by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) detailing ‘trade barriers’ based on intellectual property issues.

Solomont’s threat was that should Spain not pass the Sinde Law (described by some as the Spanish SOPA) then the country would be degraded further and placed on the Priority Watch List. This serious step would mean that Spain was in breach of trade agreements and could be subjected to a range of “retaliatory actions”.

In the event Zapatero’s government left office without passing the law, but the incoming Partido Popular (People’s Party) were quickly pressured by the US to take the necessary action.

In another media leak it’s now been revealed that American Chamber of Commerce in Spain chief Jaime Malet wrote a cautionary letter to incoming Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. He warned of the potential flight of foreign investment from Spain and urged him to take action on the protection of intellectual property once in office.

“[The law's] lack of approval before the elections has been a blow to the country’s seriousness in this matter of such importance,” said Malet, while urging Rajoy to “to retrieve the consensus reached.”

Rajoy’s government quickly responded and fully implemented the legislation within 10 days of taking office.

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So basically the USA are bullying Spain behind closed doors. -.-

I wonder would they be fighting a war against internet terrorism any-time soon...

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this fking admin we have has got to go. vote these democrats in the usa out. kick one big azz mistake america back to his homeland

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this fking admin we have has got to go. vote these democrats in the usa out. kick one big azz mistake america back to his homeland




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How the US pressured Spain to adopt unpopular Web blocking law

Though a deeply divided Congress is currently considering Internet website censorship legislation, the US has no such official policy—not even for child porn, which is voluntarily blocked by some ISPs. Nor does the US have a government-backed "three strikes" or "graduated response" system of escalating warnings to particular users accused of downloading music and movies from file-sharing networks.

Yet here was the ultimatum that the US Embassy in Madrid gave the Spanish government in February 2008: adopt such measures or we will punish you. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we have the text of the diplomatic cable announcing the pressure tactics.

We propose to tell the new government that Spain will appear on the Watch List if it does not do three things by October 2008. First, issue a [Government of Spain] announcement stating that Internet piracy is illegal, and that the copyright levy system does not compensate creators for copyrighted material acquired through peer-to-peer file sharing. Second, amend the 2006 “circular” that is widely interpreted in Spain as saying that peer-to-peer file sharing is legal. Third, announce that the GoS [Government of Spain] will adopt measures along the lines of the French and/or UK proposals aimed at curbing Internet piracy by the summer of 2009.

The Watch List referenced is the US Trade Representative's "Special 301" list, updated annually. Spain was duly put on the list in 2008 after failing to take such measures. ("The United States is concerned by the Spanish government’s inadequate efforts to address the growing problem of Internet piracy, described by U.S. copyright industries as one of the worst in Europe," said the 2008 report.) Spanish copyright holders applauded the move; indeed, the cables show that they repeatedly asked US officials to make it.

Spain certainly has a huge community of pirates and there are many that doesn't expect to pay for downloaded content (some of this is due to rampant consumer confusion over a levy paid on blank media, which many believe covers such activity). Even the Spanish Secretary of State conceded in 2008 that "Spanish internet users were very heavy consumers of illicit content." But how to address the issue? Perhaps by putting someone from the film industry in charge of Internet piracy policy?

Meet the Minister

Spain got a new Culture Minister in 2009—Ángeles González-Sinde Reig, who was formerly the head of the Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematográficas de España (Spanish Academy of Cinematographic Arts & Sciences). Sinde quickly promoted the "Sinde Law," a plan to give a government committee the power to blacklist Internet sites trafficking in copyrighted files. Helpfully, the content industries already had a list of 200 sites drawn up for banning.

Sinde recognized the obvious conflict between her new position and her old one for the film industry; as the US embassy put it in a cable, "she also acknowledged the importance of fighting any perception that she was only interested in piracy for personal reasons, and she has taken a relatively low public profile on the issue in her first months." Privately, however, "she is actively engaged in the fight against piracy."

Though Sinde repeatedly stressed that she had no intention of going after individual file-swappers, private communications made clear that this was only a starting position. In December 2009, the embassy noted the familiar pattern of IP litigation: always demand more, but do so in stages.


Ángeles González-Sinde

"While many content providers wish the government would go further, they also believe these measures probably represent the most that can be achieved at this point and that accepting them will enhance rights-holders' ability to press the government for more stringent measures in the future," said the cable.

In 2010, Sinde told the US ambassador not to worry about the legislation being watered down. "The Minister replied that the Government has committed to trying this approach first, and if it doesn't prove effective, they will come back with additional and perhaps stronger measures," said a cable. The thumbscrews can always be tightened further.

The US arranged to aid Sinde, and it lobbied hard for her measure, even carrying her position to other Spanish opposition parties to request their support. The goal wasn't simply to affect Spanish law; Sinde's "receptivity also gives us an opportunity during Spain's EU presidency to influence developments beyond Spain," one cable noted.

Barking dogs

Resistance from locals was fierce. The US embassy, which enthusiastically supported the Sinde law, noted that "serious challenges" lay ahead, that the law was opposed by Internet groups and lawyers, and that "the outcome is uncertain."

Still, the government didn't think much of the opposition. Carlos Guervos, Deputy Director for Intellectual Property at the Ministry of Culture, told the US ambassador that "the dogs bark but the caravan moves on" and that the law would be passed.

The dogs put up a good fight, though. As the BBC noted, "Last year hacktivist group Anonymous organised a protest at the Goya Awards—Spain's equivalent of the Oscars—which saw several hundred people in Guy Fawkes masks booing the minister of culture while applauding Alex de la Iglesia, then-president of the Spanish Film Academy. The movie director had previously voiced opposition to the Sinde law on Twitter and later resigned over the issue."

Then in late 2010, opposition parties managed to halt the bill in parliament. On December 21, the Electronic Frontier Foundation declared victory and said that a committee had "just stripped the website shut-down provision from the Sustainable Economy Bill"—in part due to the revelations about US pressure.

But the government found a way to bypass the barking mutts, leaving the law for the incoming administration to handle after November 2011. (The law was so unpopular that the former administration elected not approve it after huge levels of animosity surfaced on social networking sites.) The new government did so quickly, passing a modified version of the Sinde law—judges will now have to issue the actual blacklist order, for instance.

Why the sudden movement? US pressure again played a role. As El País reported yesterday, the US ambassador sent a letter to Spanish government officials on December 12, 2011, in which Spain was blasted for not getting the job done. The US could move to put Spain on its Section 301 "priority" watch list, a more severe designation which could carry the threat of trade penalties.

Within weeks, the new Spanish government came through.

Paella and process

Whatever you think of the resulting legislation, the process was grotesque: the Spanish film industry got one of its officials into power, then promoted a tough new law backed by the threats (and even active lobbying) of the US government—though the US didn't take the same measures itself.

As for the US position, it too was informed by self-interested Hollywood sources. "[uS] Ambassador Solomont said he had heard a great deal about Spain's Internet piracy problem, from MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] CEO [Dan] Glickman and others," said a February 2010 diplomatic cable, "and asked where things stand with the government's legislative proposal on shutting down or blocking pirate websites."

Hollywood exerts such pressure around the world, and the US State Department is generally willing to support a major American export industry like the movie business. The MPAA was behind a high-profile Australian legal battle in which it attempted to force a major Internet provider to cut off subscribers' access without a judicial order. At Hollwyood's behest, the US government has pushed hard in Canada for stricter theater camcording laws and tougher IP enforcement; the US threatened Canada with going on the "Priority" Special 301 Watch List in 2008 after Canada proved slow to act. WikiLeaks cables even showed that the US Embassy in New Zealand was drafting plans for the US taxpayer to spend half a million New Zealand dollars to bankroll a private intellectual property enforcement unit run by major rightsholders in the region.

That's how the legislative paella gets made, but the paella-eaters don't have to like it. Víctor Domingo Prieto, head of Spain's Asociación de Internautas (Association of Internet Users), said this week in an over-the-top statement that the Sinde Law makes Internet users "cast our minds back to the time of censorship, of the dictator."

For its part, a Spanish government spokesperson said that "Spain joins the international standard in the fight against piracy" with the passage of the new law.

The "borderless Internet"? Despite the hopes and fears of the 1990s, the Internet has turned out to be quite "borderable" after all. The Sinde Law simply tosses one more shovel-full of dirt on the idea's coffin. Digital borders, like borders everywhere, will always leak, but sufficiently determined governments can and will erect them on the 'Net. Especially with the US government pushing hard to erect them.

Further reading

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