Friday, November 25, 2005

Intellectual Property "Theft" - A European Crime?

A press release of the European Commission has announced the controversial plan to create a body of pan-European criminal law, with seven framework decisions having already been adopted (but on erroneous legal bases). The proposal is to adopt directives or other Community legislative measures to replace these decisions as a matter of priority.

This action is made possible by an ECJ ruling in September in environmental law, which stated that the Community is competent to require Member States to impose sanctions (including criminal sanctions) at the national level if it is to attain a Community objective. However, the plan is strongly opposed by the UK and other member states as an unacceptable dissipation of national sovereignty in what is perceived to be a great shift of power to the European Union. Anthony Browne, of The Times, London, describes it as a plan to remove Britain's right to decide what constitutes a crime. However, the Commission press release maintains that the proposal is a response to a "duly justified need" and that such exercise of Community competence in criminal matters would be in view of "the overall consistency of the construction of the criminal law of the Union."

Of particular concern is the possibility that intellectual property infringement will be introduced as a European crime in the future. Although not one of the first seven offences identified for immediate recognition, intellectual property "theft" has been suggested by the Commission as a possible candidate as a future European crime, alongside race crimes and trafficking in human organs. This indicates a somewhat disconcerting emphasis on that "theft" as a kind of fundamental injustice. Against individuals or the Community?

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