The Internet censorship bills, SOPA and PIPA, bouncing around Congress don’t really work unless you apply them globally. If other countries do not vigorously protect their entertainment and high-tech industry’s copyrights in the same way as the United States, those industries will lose market share domestically. So the US has taken to pressuring other countries to pass anti-piracy laws through their legislatures. And this pressure rose to the level of threats, we have now learned from leaked letters.

The US ambassador in Madrid threatened Spain with “retaliation actions” if the country did not pass tough new internet piracy laws, according to leaked documents.

The latest revelation comes amid a fierce debate over America’s own plans to pass online piracy legislation that critics claim will damage the infrastructure of the internet and restrict free speech.

In a letter dated 12 December and obtained by Spanish newspaper El Pais, US ambassador Alan Solomont wrote to the outgoing Spanish prime minister expressing his concern about the lack of movement on a online piracy bill, known as the Sinde law.

“The government has unfortunately failed to finish the job for political reasons, to the detriment of the reputation and economy of Spain,” reads the letter to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The letter was also sent to minister of culture Ángeles González-Sinde, after whom the law is named.

Spain would go on to pass Sinde at the start of this year.

This is nothing more than extortion. The US government operates as a lobbyist for industry in demanding changes to foreign law, and in the case of Spain has been doing so for at least three years. The specific threat was to place Spain on a list of countries not doing enough to prevent piracy, which would lead to US trade sanctions. Indeed, Spain did get put on this list in 2011, before they passed their anti-piracy law.

This sets all of our “free trade” agreements in the proper context. They’re not free at all. They are conditioned upon certain demands, in this case strong and misguided anti-piracy laws, or trade will be restricted. The “free-traders” in government have no problem being protectionist on behalf of US corporations. Matt Yglesias writes:

Unfortunately, this sort of thing has become a larger and larger aspect of American “trade” policy where we try to offer the carrot of access to U.S. markets in exchange for foreign countries strengthening IP protections. Lost in all of this is the fact that nobody can explain what the alleged online piracy problem consists of. Americans aren’t under-entertained. The past decade has seen the highest-quality television ever produced. There are plenty of movies to watch and albums to listen to.

By the way, we know about this sorry exchange thanks to Wikileaks documents from back in 2010. So we learned through “copyright-protected” documents that the US was demanding draconian copyright protections on Spanish media and technology products. It all has a nice synergy, somehow.