Record Companies Take It Personally

A court ruling saying there’s nothing illegal about downloading music for free as long as it’s for personal use has rattled the Spanish recorded music industry.

Although other countries are considering similar legislation changes that would allow free copying for personal use, the Spanish phonographic industry – part of the IFPI – is concerned that Judge Paz Aldecoa’s November 2nd judgment in Madrid’s High Court doesn’t make it clear exactly what “personal use” is.

She threw out a case against an unnamed 48-year-old man who, according to Spanish press reports, offered and downloaded digital versions of music on the Internet.

The prosecutors claimed the defendant had also downloaded selections of music to CDs and mailed them out to people in the post.

The judge ruled that, under Spanish law, a person who downloaded music for personal use could not be punished or branded a criminal.

“That would imply criminalising socially admitted and widely practised behaviour where the aim is not to gain wealth illegally but to obtain private copies,” she said.

Her ruling was quickly supported by Victor Domíngo, head of Spanish Internet user’s association Internautas, who told Abc newspaper, “It would be a lot different if someone downloaded in order to sell on.

“If the purpose of the copy is not to gain wealth, there is no way that it can be considered illegal.”

However, Antonio Guisasola from Spain’s Promusicae recording industry federation said Judge Aldecoa got it wrong.

“We have already appealed against the decision. Peer-to-peer sharing is not legal in Spain.”

Guisasola, whose federation had backed the prosecution and demanded the defendant get a two-year prison sentence and hit for euro 25,000 (£16,700) in fines and compensation, looks to have lost the day because his legal team failed to prove the man was actually selling the music he sent out.

The judgment will likely cause Guisasola and Promusicae to lobby justice minister Juan Fernando Lopéz Aguilar to hurry a law that restricts private copying at a time when much of Europe is looking to allow it.

The Madrid case seems to show the danger of legislating on copying for private use without having a clear legal definition of “private use” in place.

As it stands, Judge Aldecoa’s ruling opens the door for Spain’s estimated 16 million Internet users to download music and distribute it, leaving the prosecution with the burden of proving that money is changing hands.

– John Gammon