You might expect that the usual suspects - online activists, civil liberties groups - would be against a law called the "Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive". And they are. What's more surprising is that corporations such as Nokia and BT, themselves big rights-holders, are also questioning the long-term implications of the legislation, which will be discussed by the European Parliament next week.
The worry is that the legislation could stifle technological innovation and commercial competition, and that it erodes the rights of consumers to use products as they see fit.
Initially the directive was planned to cover copyright, trademarks and patents. Now the UK-based Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) suggests that it will turn out to be even more far-reaching than the controversial US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), which has recently led to hundreds of people - including a 12-year-old and a grandmother - being sued for sharing music files.
Ian Brown, director of the FIPR, says that the directive tilts the whole legislation towards the large global-rights holders. He questions whether the explosion in usage of the internet, or even the development of technologies such as Apple's iTunes and iPod - which offer a legitimate means of downloading music - would have occurred or been so commercially viable if this legislation had existed earlier. Apple wouldn't comment; but companies such as Nokia and BT are beginning to question the long-term implications of the legislation.
BT believes that the current proposals are too broad in scope and threaten the delicate balance of existing legislation. The company has no problem with legislation aimed at addressing counterfeiting. But it doesn't find the directive, as it stands, acceptable. Nor do many others. Tim Frain, director of intellectual property at Nokia, says that while "counterfeiting and piracy represent a serious drain on the proper rewards available to rights-holders" - necessitating some form of legislation - the European directive could interfere with everyday business practice.
Here's what worries him. Whereas at the moment companies will usually negotiate over copyright licences and patent details if some form of infringement is likely - which allows a certain amount of informed risk-taking in developing new products and services - the European legislation will make managers individually liable for infringement of copyright and patents.
"Once managers become personally liable to a criminal conviction if copyright is infringed, as they would be under the new legislation, then they are less likely to take informed risks, and this will ultimately stifle technological innovation," says Frain.
Frances Moore, European regional director for the IFPI, which represents the recording industry worldwide, and is a strong supporter of the enforcement directive, doesn't agree. "If anything the directive should help innovation," she says. "Pirates and counterfeiters don't re-invest anything in industry." Piracy, …