The National Consumer Council (NCC) is warning that the European Commission's plans to enforce intellectual property rights on music and other creative content are "heavy-handed".
"Consumers," says NCC, "are being treated like organised criminal gangs".
Consumers already face the prospect of legal action for sharing music files. So far, 60 UK internet users have settled legal claims against them by the British Phonographic Industry, paying up to £6,500 in compensation. One mother faced a demand of £4,000 after her 14-year-old daughter shared songs from her favourite artists.
Jill Johnstone, NCC director of policy, who is campaigning for fairer intellectual property laws, warns that the situation could get even worse: "Moves are afoot in Brussels to tighten up enforcement of intellectual property laws. It could mean consumers facing criminal sanctions and a criminal record for sharing creative content.
"The European Commission must think again before bringing in new and tougher IP laws. Criminal sanctions for infringing copyright holders' rights must be applied only to organised crime – not to individual citizens making use of new technologies."
Johnstone is fighting for a fair deal between consumers and rights owners: "Any new laws must be very clear on this point and must strike a balance between right holders' interests in getting a fair return and the public and consumer interests of fair access and use, and the encouragement of innovation."
The organisation has written to UK government ministers and MEPs to draw attention to the problem and will be mounting a joint campaign with other EU consumer organisations later this year.