STRASBOURG (Reuters) – The European Parliament backed a move to harmonize criminal punishment for counterfeiting across the EU yesterday, part of a crackdown on the multi-billion-euro fake goods industry. The EU assembly voted 374-278, with 17 abstentions, in favor of criminal sanctions for infringing intellectual property rights, such as ripping off trademarks and copyright. Under the measure, counterfeiters could be fined up to -300,000 or imprisoned for up to four years. «It is about punishing mafia-style criminals, not about jailing kids who download music from the Internet,» said Nicola Zingaretti, who steered the measure through Parliament. «Over the last 10 years, more than 125,000 workers lost their jobs because of unfair competition from counterfeiters around the world,» the Italian member of the Parliament’s socialist group said. Fake goods cost the EU an estimated -500 billion a year and some represent a growing health threat, such as imitation condoms as well as HIV and pregnancy testing kits made under unhygienic conditions, the EU said last year. Approval from EU countries is needed for the measure to become law. Some, such as Britain and the Netherlands, say criminal sanctions should remain the preserve of states. Green lawmakers said many of the areas covered by the new measure, such as copyright, were already dealt with effectively by national civil laws and they hoped EU states would reject it. Theft of intellectual property is a growing problem and includes music and film piracy, copyright and trademark fraud and counterfeit goods such as fake medicines, handbags or toys. Worldwide, 36 percent of all music CDs and cassettes sold are pirated, Zingaretti said. Patents are excluded from the scope of the new rules. Criminal gangs are seeking new ways to make money amid crackdowns on illegal drugs but piracy clampdowns are difficult due to differing levels of punishment among EU countries, EU officials say. Legal grounds Most fake goods come from China but music piracy is strong in Greece, Italy and Spain, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. EU ministers will attempt to reach a deal on the new measures in May, backed by Italy, France, Spain, Austria and current EU president Germany. The EU’s executive Commission and parliament say they are on firm legal ground following a ruling by the European Court of Justice, the bloc’s top court. The court has said effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties may form part of efforts to combat serious environmental offenses. Under the rules, authorities would have the right, for the first time in some states, to seize and destroy counterfeit goods and team up with other countries to tackle criminals. The rules define intellectual property abuse as being «deliberate» to obtain «commercial advantage.» Music file sharing that is not on a commercial scale would be covered by civil law, an EU assembly official said. Impala, a group representing independent music companies in the EU, said the scope of the measures should have been wider.