France to adopt “three strikes” law for illegal downloaders

By Mark O’Neill
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

You only have to look at the issue of online file sharing to see how different the European Union is.   Some political parties in Scandinavia want to legalise it while German prosecutors think it’s a waste of their time and taxpayers money even prosecuting such “petty offenses”.   But France is taking the extreme opposite approach – President Sarkozy is forcefully pushing through a new law that would ban internet access for up to one year to anyone caught illegally sharing files online.

The “three strikes” law is, as you can imagine, hugely controversial, judging from media reports.   Some newspapers have accused Sarkozy of only supporting this law because his new wife is a singer, therefore he must have a personal financial interest in protecting musical profits.    Needless to say, the music and movie industry are jubilant.   Other companies, such as Google, are most definitely not.

Basically the scheme will work like this.  A state agency will be set up called HADOPI (High Authority for copyright protection and Dissemination Of works on the Internet – don’t ask me what the ‘p’ stands for).   This agency will enforce the new law.

Now how they will actually detect the file sharers is unclear (obviously they are not revealing their methods), but when they have a victim in their grasp, the victim gets two warnings.   The first one is by email (let’s hope it doesn’t go into the spam folder).    If the person doesn’t heed the warning then warning number two is a registered letter to the person’s home repeating the warning again and stressing that this is their last chance to stop (let’s hope they have a mailbox and if they do, let’s hope they don’t have a dog that likes to eat mail).

If they keep on going with downloading season 3 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, then HADOPI contacts the person’s ISP and tells them to pull the plug for a period of one year.

Now apparently, if the person then suddenly becomes repentant (which CAN happen if you suddenly lose your internet and you get withdrawal symptoms!) then that ban can be knocked down to a few months if they agree to sign a written promise never to illegally download ever again.    But if they don’t repent, then their details will be passed around other ISP firms to stop them signing up with another ISP (assuming they all co-operate with one another).

Violation of copyright laws through illegal downloading is also punishable by a fine of up to 300,000 euros and three years in jail in certain cases.

Now obviously there are a lot of people criticizing this plan and pointing out lots of flaws.   For example, what if someone is illegally downloading at work?   Is HADOPI going to take out the internet connection of an entire company for a whole year?    What if a child is doing it and the parents plead ignorance?   What then?   Plus what’s to stop the person going to a friend’s house and using their computer?   Or taking a laptop and using wi-fi in Starbucks?

Plus as many people point out, these days, EVERYTHING is connected to the internet – things like your telephone.   Many people use Skype as their phone for example.   So if you take out the internet, you’re also taking out their phone.   You’re also depriving them of online banking and other day to day necessities.

But despite the numerous complaints, Sarkozy is standing firm and the law is likely to come into force in January 2009.   So if you’re an illegal downloader in France, you’d best either stop – or find a Plan B.

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