Spain proposes file-sharing sites shutdown – without a hearing

reunionsinde[Spain] This week has been an exciting one here in Spain, to say the least. The rights of citizens online have been discussed all week in the press. Much as in other European countries, there has been a lot of discussion regarding illegal downloads, intellectual property rights and file sharing on P2P platforms. Our Spanish government, pressured by major music labels, prominent personalities in the entertainment business as well as the polemic of the General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE) has been lobbying hard on what it sees as the “problem”.

But this week the Ministry of Culture set off a cultural and political bomb. It proposes to create a Commission of Intellectual Property enabling it to shut down any website for infringing copyright (such as sites with links to torrents) without judicial intervention.

And that’s what has everyone up in arms. The Commission would have the upper hand, with the help of SGAE.  Interestingly enough, there have already been cases in the past wherein previously shutdown websites have had the ban lifted after going through the judicial arm as they were deemed not illegal.

This is a two sided story, however. The best part in my opinion is the incredible, massive and organized reaction that exploded immediately after within the online community. A manifesto (hash tagged #manifiesto) called “In Defense of Fundamental Internet Rights” was put together by a number of well known Spanish online personalities. The Facebook group currently has 126,800 members (it grew by 2,000 as I wrote this post).

This week has been spectacular. Twitter was (and still is) on fire with information coming from all directions, inciting people to take action and keeping them informed with every bit of new information. It’s a loud and clear sign of how now, given our access to information, our ability to manifest, to share, to speak up, to join, it’s IMPOSSIBLE for government to get anything by without getting a slap in the face. And they sure as hell noticed. Shortly after news got out of the suggested commission and its unprecedented ability to make decisions without judiciary intervention, 12 members of our online community were invited to a meeting with government officials to “discuss” their plans and our objections. The Culture Minister, Angeles Gonzalez Sinde, arrived late and left within 30 minutes. Not what you would call a discussion, more like an appearance. Needless to say, that conversation went nowhere. There was no real room for discussion.

If that wasn’t enough of a sign as to how much of an online movement this has become and the attention it’s getting, in the afternoon, after the failed meeting, President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero came out in a press conference to appease tensions, stating that “no website will be shut down”, discrediting the Culture Minister.

But it got bigger. Press coverage has been impressive. Last night at 8pm, an unofficial protest—a walk—was called, in defense of our fundamental internet rights. As far as I know, people came out in protest in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Vigo, Bilbao, Palma, Malaga, Granada, La Coruña and Santiago de Compostela.  And I’m sure there are more. We mobilized for internet rights, without which we wouldn’t have been able to mobilize in the first place. Whatever comes out of the commotion now, whatever final decisions are drawn (unlikely to happen quickly), this spectacular reaction is something to talk about.