France 'cuts off' illegal downloader's web access

As the French government is re-thinking its policy towards Internet users who illegally download copyrighted material, a court has sentenced one offender to 15 days without (some) online services.


For the first time in France, a court has banned an Internet user from going online – for 15 days – for illegally downloading copyrighted material.

The sentence, passed at the end of May, was revealed by website PCInpact this week and confirmed Friday by the government department responsible for administering the 2010 law, better known by its French acronym Hadopi.

The unnamed web user, convicted under France’s “three strikes” rule in which warnings are sent by email and registered post, was also fined 600 euros.

And while the offender is cut off from the “public” web, his Internet Service Provider (ISP) is obliged to make sure access to essential online services, including private messaging such as email, remain accessible.

According to PCInpact, it is unclear whether ISPs are even technically able to impose such restrictions on their customers.

‘Like cutting off someone’s water’

It is the first – and probably the last – time anyone in France will have their Internet access cut off under the Hadopi law, which French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti told PC Inpact was on the point of being dissolved.

The confirmation of the sentence, which can still be appealed, comes as the government is preparing to hand responsibility for monitoring illegal downloads to French media regulator CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel).

Under government plans, persistent downloaders could face fines, but would not have their Internet access revoked.

Last week French Digital Minister Fleur Pellerin said at a press conference in Sweden: "In this day and age it's not possible to cut off someone’s Internet access. It's like cutting off their water."

Hadopi’s failure

Much criticised by supporters of a free Internet, Hadopi has been far from successful.

The latest court decision is only the second conviction in the three years since it came into force.

In September 2012, a French Internet user was fined 150 euros after his wife illegally downloaded two Rhianna songs and was unlucky enough to get caught.

According to a BFMTV study published in May 2013, the Hadopi authority has sent 1,680,000 emailed warnings, 147,000 registered letters and had investigators probe 528 individual cases.

Only 30 of these cases were sent to prosecutors. Of these, just four have been judged with two convictions.

The whole process has cost the government an estimated 12 million euros a year, with a return in fines of just 750 euros. 

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