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How the US pressured Spain to adopt unpopular Web blocking law

Nate Anderson writes, in reference to Spain’s new web blocking law:

 Resistance from locals was fierce. The US embassy, which enthusiastically supported the Sinde law, noted that “serious challenges” lay ahead, that the law was opposed by Internet groups and lawyers, and that “the outcome is uncertain.”

Still, the government didn’t think much of the opposition. Carlos Guervos, Deputy Director for Intellectual Property at the Ministry of Culture, told the US ambassador that “the dogs bark but the caravan moves on” and that the law would be passed.

The dogs put up a good fight, though. As the BBC noted, “Last year hacktivist group Anonymous organised a protest at the Goya Awards—Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars—which saw several hundred people in Guy Fawkes masks booing the minister of culture while applauding Alex de la Iglesia, then-president of the Spanish Film Academy. The movie director had previously voiced opposition to the Sinde law on Twitter and later resigned over the issue.”

Then in late 2010, opposition parties managed to halt the bill in parliament. On December 21, the Electronic Frontier Foundation declared victory and said that a committee had “just stripped the website shut-down provision from the Sustainable Economy Bill”—in part due to the revelations about US pressure.

But the government found a way to bypass the barking mutts, leaving the law for the incoming administration to handle after November 2011. (The law was so unpopular that the former administration elected not approve it after huge levels of animosity surfaced on social networking sites.) The new government did so quickly, passing a modified version of the Sinde law—judges will now have to issue the actual blacklist order, for instance.

Whatever you think of the resulting legislation, the process was grotesque: the Spanish film industry got one of its officials into power, then promoted a tough new law backed by the threats (and even active lobbying) of the US government—though the US didn’t take the same measures itself.

This is yet another demonstration of American content industries’ ability (and willingness) to exert political pressure through the State Department to affect legislative changes around the world. It’s absolutely absurd that such a small segment of the American economy can wield such incredible power. The Web, and Internet, is larger in economic, political, and cultural importance than any particular group of rights holders; copyright should not trump the laws governing the next generation of content generation and dissemination. As a content producer – with items in print – it’s absolutely reprehensible that any rights holder would actively attempt to undermine the principles of open and free exchange of knowledge that the Web is based upon.