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Astonishing revelations  of a US plan to get Spain to block websites and implement a graduated response.  IPR and copyright held as high a priority as  Afghanistan and Iran  in diplomatic talks.  Rights-holders collaborated with the US. Citizens opposition  groups such as the Internautas, named.


Diplomatic cables made public by Wikileaks show how the Spanish government has been  pressured  by the US  to bring forward  a  draconian copyright enforcement law to address peer-to-peer file-sharing. The US authorities were acting on behalf of rights-holder organisations including the  Motion Picture Association (MPAA) which represents the big Hollywood studios.

One of the levers used against Spain was to place it on the US notorious

Special 301 Watchlist. This list is may be   used as an economic threat to force countries to (re)draft intellectual property rights (IPR) law to meet US requirements.


Spain is currently putting through new IPR  provisions  within a wider law called the "Law for a Sustainable Economy"(LES).  The measures are intended to address peer-to-peer file-sharing, and relate to copyright law.  The LES   would allow rights-holders to get websites blocked without a judicial ruling. It appears that the law  addresses websites, search engines and trackers rather than individuals. In other words, it is a web-blocking law, but does not appear to be 3-strikes. It would work by blocking access to content, applications and services, rather than punish individual users.


The Wikileaks cables originate from the US Embassy in Madrid, and are address, among others, to the office of the  Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. The cables reveal that the  US government had a strategic plan to force Spain to bring in such a law. They further reveal how IPR was placed at a priority level equivalent to Afghanistan or Iran. For example, in a discussion with the spanish opposition leader, the agenda was: "Afghanistan, Iran,

IPR, the Spanish economy, and Latin America."


The cables tell how, in 2008,  Spanish collecting societies collaborated with the US Embassy in a ‘fact-finding' project to determine the level of alleged piracy in Spain, and how they asked the US to place Spain on the Special 301 Watchlist. The cables detail how the SGAE, Promusicae, and other rights-holder groups held discussions with the US Embassy economic staff and gave them information on peer-to-peer downloading in Spain. The SGAE  is described in the cables as having ‘links with the MPAA'.


The MPAA  chief executive Dan Glickman is named, and reported to have been personally on the phone to the US Embassy.


Throughout 2008, the US Embassy in Madrid appears to have worked with rights-holders to pressure the  newly-elected Spanish government. In September 2008, in a meeting between US Embassy staff and a Spanish government official, Spain was ‘urged to take strong action against internet piracy'.  


El Pais, the leading Spanish newspaper, has also investigated the Wikileaks cables on IPR, and it reports that the pressure from the US government and the  MPAa dates back as far as 2005.


Since the  draft LES  law was published in December 2009, there has been considerable controversy in Spain, with ‘strident opposition'  to the website blocking provisions being very vocal, according to the US Embassy cables. Specific mention is made of the Association of Internet Users, known as the Internautas. According to the US Embassy cables, a Manifesto in Defence of Fundamental Rights was issued by citizens groups, immediately after the first draft of the law was published.


The pressure from these citizen groups appears to have forced the Spanish President Zapatero, to say that there were no plans to block websites. However, the US and Spanish government officials  appear to disregard such opposition:


"Carlos Guervos, Deputy Director for Intellectual Property at the Ministry  Of  Culture, asked about the manifesto and other shrill commentary, quoted the proverb that "the dogs bark but the caravan moves on," and added that now was the time for hisMinistry "not to go wobbly."


The law is not yet passed, but it is clear from these cables how much pressure the US is putting onto Spain to get it through. 


 The US Embassy cables refer to the EU Telecoms Package in the context of copyright - it notes approvingly  that the Telecoms Package ‘will not require a court order for cutoff of Internet access'.  It also expresses approval for France's Hadopi law to enforce copyright against peer-to-peer file-sharers, and the UK's Digital Economy Act which proposes automated throttling of users.


In this context, the cables from the US Embassy in Madrid concerning IPR should act as a warning. If the Spanish government has been pressured in this way, how much was Brussels pressured over the Telecoms Package?


Moreover,  how heavy was the pressure on the UK and French governments to introduce their graduated response measures?



Further details of the Wikileaks US Embassy  Madrid cables on IPR are in this report ( in Spanish) from El Pais



 Extracts from the US Embassy Madrid cables  - made public by Wikileaks  - on the subject of intellectual property rights (IPR),   copyright  and peer-to-peer file-sharing.





The Embassy has a short, medium and long-term IPR strategy for

Spain (ref C). Our experience suggests that we need to put

the pressure on whatever government is elected during its

first year in office, so the short-term part of the

strategy is the most critical piece. On balance, we think we would

have a better chance getting a new government to move

quickly on a public peer-to-peer announcement, the Circular and

measures to stem internet piracy if we do not have to deal

immediately with the resistance that could be sparked by

placement on the Watch List. Our bottom line: consider

giving the new government six months, and if does not

perform, put Spain on the Watch List.


15 September 2008


5. (C) The DCM raised IPR and Spain's appearance of the

Special 301 watchlist, urging that the GOS take strong

action against internet piracy. Fernandez de la Pena seemed

unfamiliar with the issue but promised to give it his



4 December 2009 

10. (U) Reaction from the Association of Internet Users
("Internautas") and like-minded organizations, however, was
immediate and vocal. On the morning of December 2, a
10-point Manifesto in Defense of Fundamental Rights on the
Internet appeared on the Internet and in the first two days
had reportedly gained tens of thousands of adherents.


22.Jan. 2010

1. (C) Summary. The Ambassador called January 21, 2010, on

opposition party leader Mariano Rajoy and Rajoy,s Chief of

Cabinet, Jorge Moragas. They discussed Afghanistan, Iran,

IPR, the Spanish economy, and Latin America. End summary.



4. (C) The Ambassador described his strong commitment to

helping U.S. business compete in Spain, noting that the IPR

situation is a major concern, especially for the U.S. music

and film industries. He noted MPAA head Dan Glickman called

him the day before to register concerns about Spain. The

Ambassador said that at a recent movie premiere in Madrid,

Warner Brothers' executives reported sales of new release

DVDs were down 80 percent. Rajoy, whose party has in recent

weeks objected to a GOS legislative proposal that would

authorize shutting down websites that promote piracy, said

this is a great debate in Spain and there are diverse

opinions, including a vocal community of internet users. He

said the PP is asking for appropriate judicial safeguards

for shutting down websites and is working to find the

appropriate balance between IPR protection and freedom of expression.

He noted the issue is not only important economically but politically.

Nevertheless, he assured the Ambassador that

the PP wants to play a constructive role and promised to

keep an eye on the issue.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) Wikileaks cables - US threat to Spain over copyright 5 December 2010.  

Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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