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ITALIAN GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES INTERNET TAX

SOURCE: PUNTO INFORMATICO

Roma – The threat went unnoticed by Punto Informatico and, unfortunately,
by many others. But Valentino Spataro, the lawyer for Civile.it,
saw what’s coming. In an editorial released very recently [see comment
‘b’ below – translator’s note] he describes the broadside
fired at the web this last August. The bill received the approval of
the Cabinet of the Italian government on 12 October.

So what’s new? It’s quite simple really. If the law is passed and
made fully enforceable, all web activities will have to be registered
at ROC (Registro degli operatori di comunicazione – register
of communication operators). The registration procedure takes time and
costs money, plus other required bureaucratic procedures and red tape.

The bill states that “the
regulations laid down in the law herein concerning daily publications,
periodicals and book publishing has as its aim the safeguarding and
promotion of the principle of pluralism with regard to information as
specified in art. 21 of the Constitution, understood as the freedom
to inform and the right to be informed” (La disciplina prevista
dalla presente legge in tema di editoria quotidiana, periodica e libraria
ha per scopo la tutela e la promozione del principio del pluralismo
dell’informazione affermato dall’articolo 21 della Costituzione e inteso
come libertà di informare e diritto ad essere informati
).
That’s OK. It’s OK also
because it refers to publishing and not, for example to what may look
like publishing but isn’t, such as a personal website. But Spataro
points out that the wording becomes self-contradictory when it reaches
the point in which it is explained what a publication product is.

The people who have been reading Punto Informatico over the last few
years know that this is an extremely thorny question and that the novelty
and implications of this government bill give rise to considerable concern:
“A publication product is any product whose end is that of training/education,
the provision of information or material for entertainment/leisure use,
that product being published, irrespective of the form of realisation
or the means of transmission” (art. 2, para. 1).

(“Per prodotto editoriale
si intende qualsiasi prodotto contraddistinto da finalità di informazione,
di formazione, di divulgazione, di intrattenimento, che sia destinato
alla pubblicazione, quali che siano la forma nella quale esso è realizzato
e il mezzo con il quale esso viene diffuso
(art 2, comma 1)).

If you’re still not sure
what a publication product is, read the next paragraph of the same article,
which states what is not a publication product:

“Products aiming at providing
purely corporate information for internal use or for the use of the
public are not publication products” (Non costituiscono prodotti
editoriali quelli destinati alla sola informazione aziendale, sia ad
uso interno sia presso il pubblico
).

Think again if you imagine
the definition doesn’t apply to personal blog points in which material
might be posted from time to time. Read on. Article 2, para. 3 says:

“The regulations of the law
herein do not apply to the products of businesses or labels producing
recorded audio or audiovisual products” (La disciplina della presente
legge non si applica ai prodotti discografici e audiovisivi
). The
government, in drawing up this bill, has not neglected to consider also
those products which serve as supplementary or ancillary material “transmitted
together with the main publication product”
(diffusi unitamente al prodotto editoriale principale).

Maybe there’s a loophole here, i.e. on and off line publications which
not only provide information or material for entertainment/leisure use
or training/education but which are also non-profit. The loophole might
have persisted had the government not promptly spied it out. Article
5 is given over entirely to this question:

“Publishing activity means
any activity directed toward the realization and distribution of publication
products and the relative sale of advertising space. Publishing activities
may be carried out also in non-entrepreneurial forms such as seek no
reward” (Per attività editoriale si intende ogni attività diretta
alla realizzazione e distribuzione di prodotti editoriali, nonché alla
relativa raccolta pubblicitaria. L’esercizio dell’attività editoriale
può essere svolto anche in forma non imprenditoriale per finalità
non lucrative
).

This paragraph means there
is no no-mans-land for non-professional “products”, leaving perhaps
a mini-loophole – but the point is of purely academic interest –
for those who do not obtain or seek advertisers for their publications.

Readers may think the typically
hot weather in August has caused mental distress among certain people
in certain quarters. Read on. Article 7 cites the reason for this measure.
With express reference to material published online, it is explained
that ROC registering is required “also to further ends regarding responsibilities
relating to criminal activities pursued via the medium of the press”
(anche ai fini delle norme sulla responsabilità connessa ai reati
a mezzo stampa
).

Leaving aside the question
of the extra millions that would go to the coffers of the State with
this Register, if this abomination [this is
how it is in the original! – translator’s note] the justification
for the new rules is that they are needed to protect people from libel.
Which supposedly means that, up to now, everybody has been able to say
what they want and commit libel at will. This is simply not the case.
On various occasions, non-professional sites and other online publications,
including purely personal activities such as blog sites, among which
purely non-profit activities, have been taken to the courts and sued
for libel.

Spataro rounds off by saying.
“If they could, they would ask for the ID cards of anybody who speaks
in public. Controls are easier via the internet. Forcing blog writers
to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole will be the best way to close
down the internet in Italy”

2) TWO
COMMENTS:

a) BY P. DE ANDREIS

Given the extreme gravity of what this government is coming up with
and given the commitment of Punto Informatico and of tens of thousands
of users over the last few years to keep the tentacles of traditional
editorial control off the web, I feel I must comment, albeit briefly.

This measure won’t get very far. Its aims lie elsewhere. The opening
articles have been written very badly. They will be re-written. We may
be sure of that. Perhaps before the New York Times has the time to come
up with headlines like “Italy leaps back to the Middle Ages”, as
it did when the law on stem cells was approved.

The sheer scale of the error
the government is making is such that it may harm the remaining parts
of the bill, which will be whitewashed over and buried under a deafening
media silence campaign. Soon we shall hear no more about it. This has
happened in the past, and we can be sure it will happen in the future.

Source: http://punto-informatico.it/

a) BY SPATARO

The new law on publishing
will oblige all bloggers and sites to become newspapers.

It doesn’t matter where they come from politically, they will never
rein in their efforts.

The web is free worldwide,
but it is to be subordinated to ROC registry in Italy.

Let’s make things perfectly
clear.

The bill on publishing presented
by our excellent government on 3 August 2007 proposes the following
(see link for further information):

THE PROPOSED RULES

Item 1 The product and publishing
activities (Capo I Il prodotto e l’attività editoriale)

Art. 2 (Definition of publication
product) (Definizione del prodotto editoriale)

1. A publication product is
any product whose end is that of training/education, the provision of
information or material for entertainment/leisure use, that product
being published, irrespective of the form of realisation or the means
of transmission. (Per prodotto editoriale si intende qualsiasi prodotto
contraddistinto da finalità di informazione, di formazione, di divulgazione,
di intrattenimento, che sia destinato alla pubblicazione, quali che
siano la forma nella quale esso è realizzato e il mezzo con il quale
esso viene diffuso.
)

2. Products aiming at providing
purely corporate information for internal use or for the use of the
public are not publication products (Non costituiscono prodotti editoriali
quelli destinati alla sola informazione aziendale, sia ad uso interno
sia presso il pubblico
).

3. “The regulations of the
law herein do not apply to the products of businesses or labels producing
recorded audio or audiovisual products.” (La disciplina della presente
legge non si applica ai prodotti discografici e audiovisivi.
).

Art. 5 (Exercise of publishing
activity) (Esercizio dell’attività editoriale)

1. Publishing activity means
any activity directed toward the realization and distribution of publication
products and the relative sale of advertising space. Publishing activities
may be carried out also in non-entrepreneurial forms such as seek no
reward” (Per attività editoriale si intende ogni attività diretta
alla realizzazione e distribuzione di prodotti editoriali, nonché alla
relativa raccolta pubblicitaria. L’esercizio dell’attività editoriale
può essere svolto anche in forma non imprenditoriale per finalità
non lucrative
) Art. 7 (Publishing activities on the internet) (Attività
editoriale su internet
)

Art. 7 (Publishing activities
on the internet) (Attività editoriale su internet)

1. Inclusion in the register
of communication operators of persons carrying out publishing activities
on the internet is relevant [see below – translator’s note] also to further ends regarding responsibilities relating to criminal
activities pursued via the medium of the press (L’iscrizione al
Registro degli operatori di comunicazione dei soggetti che svolgono
attività editoriale su internet rileva anche ai fini dell’applicazione
delle norme sulla responsabilità connessa ai reati a mezzo stampa.
)

2. For publishing activities
carried out on the internet by public subjects [the term soggetti
pubblici
is unclear to me; it probably means persons having rights
or being liable to duties according to the law as is – translator’s
note
] the person considered responsible is the person who has the
task of authorising publication of the information. (Per le attività
editoriali svolte su internet dai soggetti pubblici si considera responsabile
colui che ha il compito di autorizzare la pubblicazione delle informazioni.
)

HOW THINGS STAND TODAY

Nowadays, a publication product
(prodotto editoriale) is what is produced by a publishing house.
A publishing house is a concern which applies to a prefecture (Prefettura)
to be included in the register of publishers (registro degli editori)
by means of a simple declaration which includes indications as to its
activities at the time of Chamber of Commerce registry.

Persons with a publication
product can register their website at the ROC register of communication
operators. The register is held by the authority for communications.

Application is not mandatory
for non-publishers. However, it is required when requests are made for
public funding.

The notion of publication product
only applies to activities carried out for reward.

ROC registration means one
must issue a yearly statement in which it is specified how much one
earns and how it is earned. Yearly payments must also be made. ROC registration
takes ages. A year goes by before a form comes your way (in electronic
format). The form asks you to provide your registration number (but
you don’t know what your number is). So you send off a registered
letter and hope for the best (if someone knows more about this stage,
I’d be glad to read what they say).

HOW THINGS WILL GO

The proposal is easy enough
to understand. The “things” you produce become publication products
even when you don’t produce them for reward. Let’s take Grillo’s
blog, for example. It’s totally free of charge. Grillo sells his CDs
there, but the site is totally free of charge. And he’s not a company.
[Beppe Grillo is a famous Italian satirist whose site is, audience-wise,
perhaps the largest in Italy and feasibly a major player worldwide –
translator’s note
].

With the new meaning of the
term, publication product, the site becomes a publication product even
when it’s free. All personal blogs become publication products and
are regulated by the laws relating to the press. There are limitations
relating to seizure of publications, but if a charge is made against
you, your responsibilities are also aggravated from the penal law angle.

You become a publisher even
if you are not a publishing entrepreneur. You qualify quite simply by
publishing on the internet.

Art. 7 is a mindboggling hodge-podge,
remarkable for its lack of precision. It extends the ambit of interpretation
of where the responsibilities of individuals lie, as opposed to the
communications code (codice delle comunicazioni) which lays it
down that only the author of a piece of writing is responsible for what
is written and not the distributor (this is why Telecom can’t be held
responsible for any offensive telephone calls you may receive). Let’s
look at art. 7:

1. Inclusion in the
register of communication operators of persons carrying out publishing
activities on the internet is relevant
also to further ends regarding responsibilities
relating to criminal activities pursued via the medium of the press

What does ‘relevant’ (rileva)
mean? Does it mean that, as a blogger, I must join the ROC register,
with all that this entails?

For publishing activities
carried out on the internet by public subjects

[for ‘public subjects’ see above – translator’s note]

the person considered responsible is the person who
has the task of authorising publication of the information.

What does ‘authorise’ mean?
Consent? Control?

As an activity, authorising
may also refer to the person providing a service whereby others may
write in public.

In this case, all bloggers
will be responsible for the comments left by readers.

THE LEGISLATIVE PROCEDURE

The government has just approved
the bill
.

CONCLUSIONS

If they could, they would ask
for the ID cards of anybody who speaks in public.

Controls are easier via the
internet. Forcing blog writers to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole
will be the best way to close down the internet in Italy

N.B. Like all the laws arising
out of the laudable intention of improving the lives of us all, the
bill came out in August 2007. [August is a time when public opinion
is known to be less alert in Italy and a time frequently reserved for
unpopular lawmaking initiatives – translator’s note].

Translation by SANDY SYNGE (www.comedonchisciotte.org)

Pubblicato da God