Three-Strikes After several false starts, the first emailed warning letters to French Internet users suspected of downloading copyrighted content illegally have now gone out, marking the beginning of a new enforcement regime that content owners hope will put a significant dent in the amount of infringing content available online in that country. The letters, which began going out Oct. 1, were sent by ISPs to subscribers identified by their IP addresses, under orders from France’s Haute Autorité pour la diffusion des oeuvres et la protection des droits sur Internet (High Authority for the dissemination of works and the protection of rights on the Internet), which was set up to administer the new law.
The form letter alerts the recipient that “your internet connection has been used to commit legally-noted acts that could constitute a breach of the law.” It goes on to warn of further consequences if they don’t cut it out. A third offense can lead to the user being referred to a judge, who will have the authority to impose a fine or to cut off the user’s Internet access for up to a year. No word yet on how many letters have actually gone out.
Not all went according to plan, however. One ISP, Free, refused to send any warning letters to its users until it can work out a deal with the government to compensate it for the costs of looking up IP addresses and processing the letters.
“We think this is a stupid law,” Free founder Xavier Niel said last year, according to a report in Le Figaro [auto translated]. “This will be a law applied incorrectly, which may cut the Internet of people who are not major offenders.”
Although Free furnished the requested subscriber identities as required by the law, it delivered the data to HADOPI on paper, rather than electronically, requiring the agency to expend time and resources to key the information into its database of alleged infringers. The ISP then refused to forward the letters.
Free’s resistance drew a sharp rebuke Tuesday from HADOPI president Marie-Francois Marais. Free is “infringing the rights of its subscribers, who will not know they have been spotted once,” she said at a news conference, according to a report in Le Figaro. “In any case, the procedure continues.”
More controversy likely lies ahead, however. Under the law, anyone with a Wi-Fi or Ethernet LAN is required to secure their networks so they cannot be used by third parties to download illegally. The letters that started going out Friday warn recipients of the need to secure their networks using approved technical measures but in a weird Catch-22 they don’t identify any currently available approved measures.
That’s because the exact requirements for approved security measures are still undergoing public consultation, the results of which are yet to be published. In fact, the entire consultation is being conducted in secret [auto-translated] despite it being nominally a public process (don’t ask me how that works but apparently you can do that in France). HADOPI decided in July to make the consultation documents available only to security professionals and commercial technology providers.
Despite the official secrecy, the consultation documents leaked to the media [auto-translated] almost as soon as they were issued and immediately plunged the consultation further into controversy. Among the questions raised in the documents is the feasibility of extending the security requirements beyond mere network-access controls to include mandating the use of filtering software.
At the same time, the consultation documents made it clear that HADOPI is targeting only illegal peer-to-peer file-swapping, not other forms of online piracy like illegal streaming sites, raising questions as to its ultimate effectiveness.
At the news conference Tuesday, HADOPI officials issued a call to technology providers to begin submitting their proposed solutions again without specifying the criteria to be used for approval, according to French-language media reports [auto-translated].
HADOPI officials also issued a call for submission of legitimate download services to be included in a new registry of legal sites created by the law. The agency will shortly issue an official label allowing download sites to identify themselves as HADOPI approved.
At this point, it’s hard to tell whether the new law will have any meaningful impact on the level of online piracy in France, despite the media companies’ fondest hopes.
HADOPI Law (Wikipedia)