By CONSTANT BRAND, Associated Press Writer
STRASBOURG, France (AP) - On the eve of a vote on digital copying, music stars, CD makers and telecommunications companies urged lawmakers at the European Parliament to toughen the rules and improve copyright protection for artists.
After months of lobbying, members of the 626-member EU assembly closed debate on strengthening and extending rules on copyright protection to the internet and digital technologies.
Their vote Wednesday comes in the wake of a U.S. court decision imperiling Napster's free Internet song-swapping service.
Under Monday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Napster must somehow stop the millions of people who use it as a clearinghouse to swap copyrighted music without charge and without restriction. Napster officials say the restrictions could force the service to shut down.
"There are hundreds of regional Napsters around now," said Spanish conductor and composer, Luis Cobos, adding that Europeans artists should be given the same protection and fair compensation for their works.
"If you go to Napster or other sites, hundreds of my songs are circulating for free on the Net," said Cobos, urging lawmakers to adopt stronger copyright rules.
The record industry argues online levies for artists are necessary because the technical restrictions to limit online copying are still scarce.
The IFPI group, which represents large labels such as EMI, Virgin, Warner and Universal, said its $7 billion industry is at risk from massive and illegal copying. The group wants to restrict downloads to private, noncommercial use.
The key issue remains how the EU will regulate private copying of music and films, while overall agreement on allowing educators, museums and libraries to copy material for public use has been reached.
Opponents claim the rightholders are unjustified in asking for more compensation and stricter rules on downloading or copying music or other protected information.
"We must ensure that the rules for online distribution are not stricter than in the offline world," said Machiel van der Velde, from the European Consumers' Organisation.
"We are calling for a balance. ... Online consumers want to be given fair access," he said.
Last week a parliamentary committee voted down most of a record 200 amendments many of which calling for strengthening restrictions to copying and including a possible extension of national levies on blank videotapes, compact discs, and recorders.