updated 1/8/2010 1:32:53 PM ET 2010-01-08T18:32:53

Spain approved a plan Friday to quickly shut down Web sites offering illegal entertainment downloads, joining Britain and France in moving to implement new crackdowns on Internet piracy.

Justice Minister Francisco Caamano said the measure by the Spanish Cabinet would create a panel of experts to hear complaints against suspect sites. The panel can then call on a judge, who will have four days to hear arguments from the parties involved before ruling on whether to shut down a site.

The measure, which must be approved by Parliament, is aimed at placating entertainment industry groups that claim they are losing money through Internet piracy of copyright-protected material.

The proposals are more moderate than those of other European countries such as France, where Internet access to people who download illegally can be cut.

On Friday French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand inaugurated the new authority overseeing the protection of rights on the Internet, and said the first written warnings to people suspected of illegal downloading would be sent in spring.

Mitterand's ministry estimates that 1,000 French Internet users a day could be taken offline under the law passed last year.

Britain recently announced it planned to follow France's lead to cut off Internet access to people who download illegally.

Up to now, downloading copyrighted material has been illegal in Spain but not a criminal offense, and courts consistently ditch cases on grounds that the practice is an infringement only if used for commercial profit.

This stance has infuriated music companies and also the U.S. government and that country's powerful entertainment lobby.

Spanish record label association Promusicae claims the industry in Spain lost $1.6 billion in revenue in 2007 and 2008 because of piracy and that the industry's work force has declined by 70 percent in recent years.

Under the new regulation, suspect sites will be given time to remove the downloading tools or appeal the complaint. If the expert commission is not satisfied with the result, it will then seek a judicial order.

In France, the Internet monitoring authority will send first an e-mail warning and then registered letter to those with Internet access to inform them that their line is being used for illegal downloads. The suspect has the right to respond, and it is then up to a judge to decided whether Internet access should be severed.

Pirates who ignore the warnings could see their Internet cut off for up to a year. They could also face up to $435,000in fines or jail time.

Initially rejected as unconstitutional, the French law was passed in September. Powerful supporters include President Nicolas Sarkozy and his influential wife, model-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. The law has wide support in France's entertainment industry.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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