Switzerland to revise piracy laws

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

July 3, 2014

In September 2010 the Swiss High Court ruled that notorious copyright troll legal firm Logistep AG was acting illegally when it collected the IP addresses of people it believed were guilty of copyright infringement, as this amounted to a breach of the county’s privacy laws. This is a ruling that not only protects downloaders, but also casual uploaders, and effectively makes copyright piracy legal in Switzerland (more details about this are available in our article on 5 Best VPNs for Switzerland).

In April this year however, the European Court of Justice ruled that similar laws in the Netherlands, where a ‘piracy levy’ tax was added to the price blank CDs or DVDs in order to cover any loss to the industry due to copyright infringement were not acceptable.

At the time it was widely speculated this ruling would have a knock-on effect for other European countries with similar systems (such as Switzerland), and this now appears to be the case.

On June 12 the Federal Council mandated that the Federal Department of Justice and Police prepare a draft bill for public consultation based on a series of ‘Modernisation of copyright’ recommendations drawn up last year by copyright working group AGUR12 last year, to be ready by the end of 2015,

In addition to the ECJ ruling in April, Switzerland has been under intense pressure from pro-copyright bodies such as the MPAA, RIAA the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA). In its 2013 Special 301 Report On Copyright Protection And Enforcement on Switzerland, the IIPA described the situation as,

Piracy in Switzerland is on the rise. Since early 2011, the percentage of Swiss Internet users who access unlicensed services in a given month rose from about 30 to about 35 percent, well above the European average. The country has become an attractive haven for services heavily engaged in infringing activity, including Uploaded and Private Layer, all of whom have opened or moved headquarters or servers to Switzerland. From there, they provide a global service, effectively turning Switzerland into a major exporter of pirated content. This marked increase in infringing online activity can be directly attributed to the reality that Swiss law enforcement currently provides no effective consequences for digital copyright infringement on any scale.

Crucially, the new proposals aim to improving the situation for creators, while balancing their needs with the rights of consumers. This means that the proposals do not make downloading copyrighted material for personal use illegal, but will ban uploading such content.

In practice this means that BitTorrent downloading will become illegal, as the P2P protocol require users to seed (i.e. upload) files at the same time as they download them. Downloading methods that do not require any uploading, such as downloading from cyberlockers or via Usenet, will remain legal however.

In addition to this, the new laws would be tougher on small scale persistent uploaders (commercial level uploaders are already dealt with under Swiss law). The proposals recommend a softly-softly ‘warning from ISP’ approach for this, allowing copyright holders to bring civil proceedings only if these go unheeded. The Federal Council has shown a warm response to this approach, but wants to further investigate the details of how it would work in practice.

The proposals also suggest Switzerland block internet links to infringing content, bringing it in line with most other European countries.

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