A deadline for adopting a new EU law on copyright protection has passed with just two member countries signing up, dealing a blow to media and software companies beset by unauthorized duplication of their works across the Internet.
"It's a bit disappointing," Francisco Mingorance, European policy director for the Business Software Alliance (BSA) trade group told Reuters on Monday. "Obviously, this will delay the process."
The deadline for implementing the European Union's Copyright Directive, a broad set of laws designed to better protect the distribution of film, music and software across the Internet and onto digital devices such as mobile phones, was Sunday night.
Just Greece and Denmark have adopted the directive into local law, officials said.
With hopes dashed of having a strong copyright law in place for the start of 2003, media and software companies complain that they are largely unprotected from digital piracy, an activity they see as the biggest threat to their future. The BSA, a global body that counts among its members Apple Computer, Microsoft Corp, and Intel Corp, estimates the European software industry loses three billion euros ($3.09 billion) annually due to unauthorized duplication of its products.
The music and film industries have been hit hard too, particularly by the growth of online file-sharing networks Kazaa and Grokster that enable consumers to copy and trade all manner of copyright-protected materials for free.
The EU passed the directive in April. At the time it was seen as a big victory for copyright holders who wanted existing laws modernized to ensure they would be compensated for the digital distribution of their works.
The directive was seemingly bolstered by two treaties drafted earlier this year by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which sought to extend similar copyright protection across 30 nations in Europe, North America and Asia.
The software, film and music industries have been lobbying lawmakers all year in each of the member states to move quickly to adopt the more aggressive copyright protections.
The industries argue that the lack of a coherent approach to protecting intellectual property in the digital environment has led to the rise of a black market in pirated material.
The industry lobbyists have not convinced politicians that technological stop-gaps such as rights management tools, which would ensure a copyright holder is compensated each time his song is downloaded onto a mobile phone or a computer hard drive, would work or are necessary.
Other actors in the private sector, such as Internet service providers, have weighed in heavily on the issue, opposing laws that could ultimately hurt consumer rights.
The United Kingdom's Patent Office issued a statement on its Web site saying it was still considering a variety of view points on the matter and would endeavor to implement the directive by March 31, 2003.
"The sheer volume of replies, together with the fact that many presented detailed arguments and suggestions for alternative drafting, mean that the present analysis will not be completed quickly," the statement read.
Mingorance at the BSA said it may be months before any EU-wide law goes into effect. "I'm hopeful that before the summer it will be adopted, or at least before the end of next year, but then that will be very late."