July 11, 2013

An about-face in French anti-piracy law

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The French government shifted policy yesterday in terms of how it goes after copyright infringers, in a change that echoes the debates over SOPA and PIPA. The HADOPI law, which allowed the government to cut off internet access for users who’ve been accused by copyright holders of violations, was revoked after a short but stormy four years of existence.

Aurélie Filippetti (universally acknowledged as the coolest Culture Minister) announced the news of the revocation on Twitter; among other problems, she confirmed that enforcing the law had cost the Ministry twelve million euros. Anti-piracy measures will now involve an escalating series of fines and, according to a Guardian article by Siraj Datoo, French lawmakers will be shifting their attention away from individual infringers and onto “commercial piracy” and “sites that profit from pirated material.”

In retrospect, the HADOPI law seems to have been doomed to failure: almost as soon as it was passed, after a campaign strongly supported by then-President Nicholas Sarkozy, France’s highest court declared that internet access was a basic human right, following similar rulings in a number of other European countries. The situation that resulted was legally incompatible, and further revisions of HADOPI—requiring judicial review before the plug could be pulled, for instance—made little difference.

HADOPI had a pretty bleak track record as well. The first case that was brought under it had all the pathos of a million violins: as described on TorrentFreak, the criminal in question was a “craftsman in a small village in eastern France” whose wife (articles call her his “soon to be ex-“, suggesting a marriage foundered on the rocks of copyright infringement) downloaded Rihanna songs without his knowledge. In the end he was fined 150 euros.

And only one person’s internet access was ever affected. From a piece by Ben Woods on The Next Web:

In fact, the only time the termination clause had ever been used was by a district court of Seine-Saint-Denis a few weeks ago. The unfortunate individual was fined €600 and disconnected for 15 days following written warnings.

The toothlessness of the HADOPI law on practical terms alone—as in, actually helping to prevent piracy—might be something that the parties which make up the Center for Copyright Information should take note of. As discussed earlier this year on MobyLives, the Copyright Alert System put in place in February functions, like HADOPI, by issuing a series of alerts to an identified infringer, culminating in slowed service or redirection.  The CAS has unique problems of its own: for one thing, it’s apparently “damned hard to trigger.”

Clearly, there’s a long way to go before efficient systems to control and discourage piracy are in place (and then, of course, there’s Russia!). But the striking down of HADOPI at least demonstrates that the French government tried a method, found it did not work, and can now embark, better informed and probably somewhat chastened, on new routes.

 

Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.

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