Friday, October 23, 2009

France Approves Wide Crackdown on Net Piracy; New York Times, 10/23/09

Eric Pfanner, New York Times; France Approves Wide Crackdown on Net Piracy:

"France thrust itself into the vanguard of the global battle against digital piracy on Thursday, approving a plan to deny Internet access to people who illegally copy music and movies.

The country’s highest constitutional court approved a so-called three-strikes law after rejecting the key portions of an earlier version last spring. Supporters say they hope that France, by imposing the toughest measures yet in the battle against copyright theft, will set a precedent for other countries to follow.

Britain appears set to introduce similar legislation next month.

“France is acting as a spearhead,” said David El Sayegh, director general of the Syndicat National de l’Édition Phonographique, the French music industry association. “Piracy is not just a French problem, it is a global problem.”

Critics of the legislation call the sanctions draconian and say they will be ineffective in curbing file-sharing, or in converting pirates into customers of legitimate digital media businesses. They argue that disconnecting Internet accounts is unfair because of the increasing importance of the Web as a venue for commerce and political expression.

“It is a very sad day for Internet freedom in France,” said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesman for La Quadrature du Net, a group that had campaigned against the law. He said opponents of the law would seek new ways to subvert it.

The law creates a new agency that will send out warning letters to people accused of copying music, movies or other media content illegally via the Internet. Those who ignore a second warning and copy files illegally a third time could face yearlong suspensions of their Internet access, as well as fines.

Mr. El Sayegh said that members of the agency would be appointed in November and that the first letters could go out as soon as January. Suspensions could occur as soon as the middle of next year, he added.

The court reviewed the proposal because of a challenge by the opposition Socialist Party following parliamentary approval in September. The reversal is a big victory for President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose wife, Carla Bruni, a singer and model, had championed the measure.

The main difference between the initial proposal blocked by the constitutional court and the version approved Thursday is that a judge, rather than the new agency itself, will be required to sign off on any account suspensions. Without that protection, the court had said, the law would have violated free-speech protections.

Campaigners against the plan complained that even the new version will deny the accused the right to due process because the procedures will follow a fast-track procedure similar to that employed for traffic violations.

Approval of the law in France comes as the European Parliament, which last spring sought to enshrine Internet access as a fundamental human right, potentially blocking any government-imposed cutoffs, appears to be softening its opposition to such penalties. New provisions included in a proposed telecommunications law would permit account suspensions, analysts say.

Across Europe, policy makers have been wary about embracing “three strikes” solutions. Critics say disconnecting people’s Internet access is inconsistent with many governments’ stated objective of increasing broadband penetration.

But Britain, which had consistently ruled out account suspensions, reversed course last month, saying that it would consider such measures as a last resort in the battle against file-sharing."

No comments: