SOPA-like law passes in Spain, U.S. allegedly involved

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(CBS) - An anti-piracy law passed in Spain on Jan. 3 has striking similarities to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that is stirring controversy in the U.S.

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The Sinde Law, which is named after former Spanish Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, lets copyright holders report websites that host content which infringes on their rights. The government must then choose to take action against the site or ISP. If moved along, a judge will decide whether or not to shut down the website.

What's interesting about the law is that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) alleges the U.S. had a hand in pushing Spain to pass the legislation.

The EFF cited Wikileaks cables given to Spanish newspaper El Pais. The cables suggest the U.S. threatened to put Spain on the Special 301 report if the country did not tighten up online piracy laws.

Special 301 is a report compiled by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) used to review global intellectual property rights, protection and enforcement.

The 2008 cable drafted by the U.S. Embassy in Madrid and later published by El Pais stated:

"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 GOS 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 will adopt measures along the lines of the French and/or UK proposals aimed at curbing internet piracy by the summer of 2009."

Countries added to the "priority watch list" could be subjected to trade sanctions that would be consequential to their economy. Spain's precarious financial situation would no doubt suffer from retaliation under the Special 301 ranking.

A recent study cited by The Atlantic put Spain's unemployment rate in the mid-20 percent range. And pointed out the country piled up more private debt than most other countries during the economic bust.

In the U.S., SOPA and its sister law the Protect IP Act (PIPA) are facing opposition from Internet giants Google, Facebook and eBay, among others.

SOPA is intended to curb the illegal download of copyrighted materials from foreign "rogue" sites, like The Pirate Bay. There is already legislation that provides some protection for copyrighted material, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which requires companies to remove copyrighted content "in good faith."

Worst-case scenarios are being debated. The Electronic Frontier Foundation speculates, "Instead of complying with the DMCA, a copyright owner may now be able to use these new provisions to effectively shut down a site by cutting off access to its domain name, its search engine hits, its ads, and its other financing even if the safe harbors would apply."

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