It was a defeat when the European Parliament adopted the Gallo report on intellectual property rights enforcement last week. The report calls for harsher measures against file sharers, both through stricter laws and ”non-legislative measures”, which means forcing the Internet service providers to police their customers.
But even if the adoption of the report was a defeat, there are positive things to say about the vote. The report was adopted with 328 votes in favour, 245 against, and 81 abstentions. This means that almost half the parliament was against the measures proposed, or at least unsure about the wisdom of them.
This is the good news. There are a lot of Members of the European Parliament that are unhappy about just doing more of the same, and would want to look for solutions in other directions.
After the final vote, the display looked like this:
The left half of the European Parliament mostly voted against the report, or abstained. These are the Left, Social Democrat, and Green groups in the parliament. The Liberal group in the middle was split, and its members voted in different directions.
The big Christian Democrat group EPP mostly voted for the report. Together with the small Conservative group ECR, this was enough to have it passed.
But even if the EPP sector of the voting display looks depressingly supportive of the Gallo report when you look at the picture, many of its members voted yes primarily because the rapporteur Ms. Gallo comes from their own group, and they did not want to embarrass her. There were intense discussions within the group, with many EPP members being highly critical of the report.
Even if the voting display does not necessarily make it obvious this time, there are a lot of members from all political groups that are getting fed up with measures that simply don’t work.
There is an intellectual and political process going on in the European Parliament, and the Gallo report was by no means the last word on the issue of file sharing and freedom on the Internet.
So what happens now?
Formally speaking, the Gallo report has no direct legislative effect. It is an ”own initiative report” by the European Parliament expresses its opinion to the Commission, in case the Commission is interested. The Commission is then free to come with proposals in line with the parliament’s opinion, or to ignore it and do something else. An own initiative report has no legal effect by itself.
But on the practical and political level, the adoption of the report of course makes it easier for the forces within the Commission that think that even more enforcement will solve all problems.
This is in particular French commissioner Michel Barnier, who is a real copyright hard-liner from the same party as French president Sarkozy. He was present in plenary at the debate, and he will be very pleased with the outcome of the vote.
Now he can point at the own initiative report by the European Parliament, and say that the parliament has specifically asked him to come up with stricter measures and harsher punishements.
But even if he can truthfully say the the EP has asked for it, it was not a united parliament that did.
There are many MEPs, including some that voted yes this time, who would prefer that we took a step back, examined the real facts and figures, and found a better way to handle copyright in the Internet age.
The political discussion will continue. Next on the agenda are the ACTA negotiations.
Previous articles on the Gallo report