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Illegal downloaders to face damages claims

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08:50 CEST+02:00
Sweden on Wednesday passed a law banning the sharing of copyrighted material on the Internet without payment of royalties, in a bid to crack down on free downloading of music, films and computer games.

The law, which was approved by a large majority in parliament, will go into effect on July 1st. Those who violate the law will be ordered to pay damages.

Members of parliament stressed in a debate prior to the vote that musicians, writers, filmmakers and others ought to receive fair payment for their work.

"Every worker should be entitled to a reasonable salary," Left Party member of parliament Tasso Stafilidis said.

Swedish government and industry officials have claimed that unlicensed use of copyrighted material is rampant in the country.

"Since 2001, the record industry in Sweden has seen its revenues drop by more than 30 percent," Lars Gustafsson, chief executive of the Swedish branch of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, IFPI, told AFP recently, insisting that at least part of the decline reflected illegal downloading.

According to Henrik Ponten, legal council at the Swedish Anti-piracy Bureau, "the (piracy) problem is bigger in Sweden than in any other country in Europe."

He said that at least 500,000 of Sweden's nine million inhabitants use file-sharing programs to download and post illegal copies of films, music and computer games on the Internet.

Some 7,000 cases involving the illegal uploading of copyrighted material, are discovered annually per million inhabitants in the Scandinavian country, compared to 2,000 on average in Europe, he said.

Parliament also approved a proposal to sharply raise the price of blank CDs, DVDs, videotapes and cassettes to compensate for legal copying of material. The price of a five gigabyte DVD is expected to rise from 10 kronor to 30 kronor.

Nevertheless, just a week ago Sweden's justice minister Thomas Bodström called for record companies to stop copy-protecting CDs. He said that if the industry continued to put blocking technology on new music CDs, the government would make it illegal.

"Obviously it should be possible to make a copy of your own newly-purchased CD for an mp3 player, or to make an extra copy of the CD to have in the car," he argued on the Swedish Television web site.

The issue has split the country, with a high-profile legal battle between the Anti-piracy Bureau and ISP Bredbandsbolaget finally being settled after much mudslinging.

A month ago over a hundred of Sweden's best-known pop artists signed an open letter protesting against the illegal downloading of their music. "We do not want to be robbed," they said in the letter, which was distributed by the Swedish branch of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

Among the artists who signed the letter were Per Gessle, Lena Philipsson, Alcazar, Magnus Uggla and Soundtrack of our Lives.

The new copyrighting law will also apply to photocopies of whole books, which is common at Swedish universities where many students consider required reading material too costly.

AFP/The Local

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