10 years of internet prosecution in Italy

By EDRi · May 19, 2004

On 18 May 2004, the Italian Senate turned a highly controversial new decree into law that puts heavy fines and even prison sentences on the download of movies, music or other copyrighted works even when done without any commercial purpose. Though the law speaks of penalties when ‘making a profit’, jurisprudence in Italy has already shown that this wording does not protect purely personal use.

Downloaders and file-sharers also risk the seizure of their equipment and a humiliating publication of the verdict in the national press. See EDRI-gram 2.8. The obligation on internet access providers to spy on their customers and proactively report to the police, was deleted by a parliamentary amendment. Hosting providers have to respond to a judicial request to hand-over customer data and take down or block access to infringing materials. The law will enter into force in a few days, one day after publication in the Official Journal.

The Italian legal website Interlex has a special dossier to commemorate the sad anniversary of 10 years of IP-related internet prosecution in Italy. On 12 May 1994 the homes of many Fidonet-users were raided by the Financial Guard, and many were prosecuted for software piracy. This large scale prosecution of users of the precursor of internet was unprecedented in the world. Nobody was ever convicted, but in spite of that the Italian government has successfully pushed through the Urbani law that gives unprecedented powers of protection to the IP-industry.

In his contribution titled ‘1994,2004. 1984: the continuing story’ Giancarlo Livraghi, founder of the digital rights group Alcei, quotes the writer Bruce Sterling: “In Italy, in May 1994, Italian police launched an attack on Italian bulletin board systems that was at least twice the size of Operation Sundevil and may have been five times as large. This was the largest police seizure of bulletin board systems in world history. Italian police may not have been the first to carry out large-scale attacks on bulletin board systems, but they have done it with more gusto than anyone else in the world.” Comparing those acts to current developments, Livraghi writes: “The absurd formulation of the Italian law that deals with unregistered software usage as if it were a crime according to criminal code, is one of the pillars on which today, like ten years ago, persecutions and abuse of law are based.”

Roma vara la Legge Urbani (19.05.2004) http://punto-informatico.it/p.asp?i=48267

Interlex dossier ‘Dieci anni di perquisizioni e sequestri’ (12.05.2004) http://www.interlex.it/

Text of the Urbani law (18.05.2004) http://www.senato.it/bgt/ShowDoc.asp?leg=14&id=00100895&tipodoc=Ddlpres&modo=PRODUZIONE