The Internet is often perceived as a "wild West" when it comes to a copyright owners' rights, despite efforts over the years by the copyright police to maintain order. The Gallo Report, recently approved by the European Parliament, calls for a further crackdown on online copyright infringement in Europe, much to the dismay of digital rights campaigners. Although not legally binding, the Report is a weapon for anti-piracy advocates in Brussels and serves as a recommendation to the European Commission. This may now lead to the adoption of further protection for intellectual property rights in Europe.

The Report's Findings

A large proportion of the Gallo Report lambasts the Commission for not having a sufficiently strong frame¬work in place for defending online IP, given that infringements have reached "worrying proportions". It goes on to suggest that criminal sanctions should be introduced to co-exist with civil sanctions that are available to rights holders:

"The European Parliament … does not share the Commission’s certitude that the current civil enforcement framework in the EU is effective and harmonized to the extent necessary for the proper functioning of the internal market".

A major problem identified by the Report is the lack of legal models for buying music and videos in a consistent way across Europe. The Report calls on the creative sector to "continue to develop models enabling access to creative content online which offer improved and cost-effective choices to consumers".

The Report considers that if these issues are not addressed, the situation will "discourage businesses from development" and lead to "a fade-out of innovation in the EU". The Report concludes by calling for an objective, independent impact assessment prior to moving ahead with additional legislation.

The Legal Implications

We should expect legislation to follow in this area. But when? Who knows. It is welcomed by content owners (and feared by many users of content) that at some point in time we will see the introduction of a “three strikes" rule that would see Internet users cut off for repeated copyright infringement. Indeed, this specific option is alluded to in the Report.

Whatever the result, expect the goal posts to move soon in terms of what can and cannot be done in terms of downloading and sharing content such as music, movies and games. Likewise, expect greater sanctions which can be used against infringers by content owners.

Consequently, whether an owner of online content, an entity which makes content available to users online or an entity/individual accessing content online, wherever in the world you may be based, it is crucial to keep afoot of changes in Europe which may take place. What doesn't break the law today may do so tomorrow and there may be tough penalties introduced to punish those who infringe.