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The Italian government is drafting a decree that would give it control over online video content.
In a country where internet usage is still relatively low, the measure is seen as an attempt by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to shield his TV empire from future competition from the freewheeling world of Google and YouTube.
Italians were among the first to enthusiastically adopt mobile phones.
This is not the case with the Internet. It’s hard to find a Wi-Fi hotspot. One of Rome’s few hotspots is a cafe full of foreign expats hunched over open laptops.
A patron, Christian Lingreen, claims that his native Denmark has 100% Wi-Fi coverage – Italy maybe only 1%. “I love Italy”, he says, “but I have to say [information technology]it’s not their cup of tea.”
Nearby is Riikka Vanio from Finland, mother of two. “At school, it is impossible to transmit information to other parents via the Internet, because none of them have an Internet connection at home or even an e-mail address,” she explains. “So it’s not part of their culture yet.”
Nevertheless, Italy’s right-wing government is going far beyond its European partners with the decree that would require websites with video content to seek permission and make it mandatory to verify copyrighted videos before they are released. are not downloaded.
Such measures are unprecedented in the West.
The man who drafted the decree is Deputy Telecommunications Minister Paolo Romani.
“If YouTube uploads excerpts from copyrighted or broadcaster-produced films and uses them for commercial purposes,” Romani says, “that means YouTube should be treated exactly the same as a Streamer”.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders said the decree “would pose a new threat to freedom of expression in Italy”.
The regulations are also seen as a challenge for Google’s YouTube and other online video sharing websites. Google’s European public policy adviser Marco Pancini told the Daily La Stampa last month that “this amounts to destroying the entire Internet system”.
Since then, Pancini has met with Romani to ask for changes. “We want to be sure that in the final text,” says Pancini, “these rules do not apply to a broadcaster using YouTube only to show stock footage or short snippets of a TV show, because in that case , this would make it almost impossible to provide YouTube services in Italy.”
The executive order mandates the verification of video content to ensure that it is not considered pornographic or harmful to national security. Violators face fines of up to more than $200,000. This would create an administrative authority that would decide what can go online and what cannot.
Media freedom advocates call him the “sheriff” of the internet.
Alessandro Gilioli, journalist and blogger of the magazine Espresso, claims that the decree will lead to censorship through red tape. “The way the Italian government strangles the web is through bureaucracy, not like in China – through bureaucracy, permissions, bureaucratic obstructions.”
Critics of the decree see it as another example of Berlusconi’s conflict of interest. It directly or indirectly controls almost the entire Italian television system.
And the prime minister’s TV company, Mediaset, is considering getting into internet TV. Mediaset is already suing Google for nearly $800 million in damages over clips downloaded from its version of the Big brother reality show.
In addition, the Internet has become a favored means of communication for Italians dissatisfied with Berlusconi. Last December, hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied against him in Rome. The demonstration was organized exclusively online.
The next online rally is expected to take place this weekend outside the US Embassy. The slogan: “President Obama, please help the Internet in Italy.