By Jose Elías Rodríguez
MADRID (Reuters) - Spain is working on a new anti-piracy law which will be robust enough to keep the country off a U.S. watch list of copyright violating countries, Education and Culture Minister Jose Ignacio Wert said.
Spain is widely considered one of Europe's worst offenders for internet piracy, such as illegal downloading of music, films and games. Copyright lobby group the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) has recommended the United States Trade Representative put the country back on a so-called watch list after removing it last year.
Countries on this list can face trade sanctions from the United States if they do not crack down on piracy. The U.S. is due to publish a new watch list later this month.
"I believe this reform should satisfy those who are worried about Spain's insufficient level of protection for intellectual property," Wert said in an interview with Reuters this week.
But he also said Spain had a lot of work to do to combat a culture where piracy was widely accepted and to attract investment in providing pay services for movies and music.
The government of center Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last year passed an anti-piracy law designed to crack down on websites popular with Spaniards for downloading free movies, music and video games.
But under the law, the burden is on copyright holders to lodge complaints with the government, which is slow to act against websites allegedly violating copyright.
The new draft bill takes on board recommendations from the IIPA and others to speed up the process of going after the problem websites.
The draft law clarifies that Spain will go after "linking sites" that direct people to content on other services and establishes fines for companies that advertise on piracy websites. It also includes measures to block piracy sites from using payment services such as credit cards.
The bill, currently receiving public feedback, will be redrafted to go to parliament for debate. The minister said he expected it to be adopted by the end of the year.
A Spanish copyright lobby wants the bill to give the government power to shut down sites quickly where illegal activity is detected.
"We want legal protection comparable to any other property right," Carlota Navarrete, director of the Coalition of Content Creators and Industries, said.
Antonio Guisasola, president of music producers group Promusicae, said the process of shutting down illegal sites should be kept simple.
"We view the reform with a certain skepticism," he said. "If the activity is illegal we should attack it, not go around in circles," he said, referring to going after sites indirectly through payment systems.
(Writing by Fiona Ortiz. Editing by Jane Merriman)