The European Parliament has voted in favour of a controversial report that calls for tighter legislation when it comes to enforcing copyright laws.
The non-legislative text, drafted by French 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 criminalised the sharing of copyright files without permission.
The report calls for more co-ordination 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 EU member states, including the UK, are in favour 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.The 'three-strikes' rule makes up part of the Digital Economy Act, which was passed by the government earlier this year. Ofcom, which was appointed by the government to oversee the measures to combat illegal file-sharers, has already drafted a code of practice, which is expected to come into force some time next year.
Ireland has also already adopted this approach after the country's main ISP, Eircom, was put under legal pressure by IRMA, the music rights group. France's version of the law, known as Hadopi, is 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.