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Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2011-01-13

The French government steps up its campaign against illegal downloaders this month, promising to catch some 10,000 per day. The controversial scheme has so far incited more laughter than fear however, and is yet to bring anyone to court.

For French Web users, the New Year has ushered in the second phase of the government’s controversial crackdown on illegal downloading. Some 10,000 out of the estimated 70,000 daily illegal downloaders will be targeted under the so-called “Hadopi” law – up from the current 2,000.

The controversial legislation, which was nurtured by President Nicholas Sarkozy and heartily supported by his wife, singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, has been described as the world’s most determined attack on Internet piracy.
It works by a three-strike rule. Record or film companies and Internet providers detect the IP addresses of Internet users who use peer-to-peer file sharing to exchange copyrighted material. They then pass on those details to Hadopi, which sends a preliminary warning email and three subsequent postal letters to alleged offenders. If offenders continue to download illegally, they are then summoned to court, where they can receive a fine of up to €1,500 and have their Internet connection cut off for up to a year.
The scheme’s target offenders, however, find the system ridiculous, outdated and, most tellingly, “inapplicable”. Jérémie Zimmermann, consultant and engineer for advocacy group La Quadrature, which promotes Web users’ rights, told FRANCE 24. “Hadopi is simply a fear machine. It was created purely to scare people into going to the supermarket to buy their music and films commercially. No case will ever be tried.”
Even French lawyers are perplexed. A Paris-based lawyer specialised in online commerce and new technologies told FRANCE 24 on condition of anonymity: “It’s very difficult to say in advance if anyone could be tried using the Hadopi law. It’s way too complex, and that is something we are going to find out over the next year or so. But even then, the UMP [Sarkozy’s ruling party] won’t scrap it because they can’t admit they’re in the wrong.”
Hadopi and the presidential election
Conveniently for the government, each of the three Hadopi warnings (after the initial email) are sent within six months of each other, making the process at least 18 months long. While this is intended to give the offender time to realise their wrongdoing and stop downloading illegally before the final breach, it also means that no action need be taken until after France’s presidential election, in May 2012.
“It would be politically suicidal for the UMP to take such a case to court before the presidential election,” explains Zimmermann. The opposition Socialist Party, while not sympathetic to illegal file-sharing, has fought Hadopi as an anti-piracy solution since it was first introduced by the UMP party in 2007.
Despite the legislation's apparent inefficiency, Zimmermann argues that the government will be able to hail Hadopi as a success. “First, they’ll show that peer-to-peer use has decreased. But that’s because people are circumventing P2P and using other illegal methods instead: direct download and streaming for example [neither are surveyed by Hadopi]. Second, they’ll say: ‘look – digital sales of music have increased!’ But that means nothing, because digital sales of music increase year-on-year in both France and abroad, Hadopi or no Hadopi.”
Should the law's second phase fail in its mission to scare Web users off illegal file-sharing, Sarkozy has another plan: Hadopi 3. But that will have to wait until after the presidential election…

Date created : 2011-01-13


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