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22 Jan, 2010 07:16

France prepares to crack down on web pirates and users alike

The French government has waded into the battle on internet piracy with a second version of the country's HADOPI law that says an ordinary person can be denied internet access if found illegally downloading three times.

The alleged pirates are fighting back, saying it is an attack on human rights.

Sam Goldszmidt is one of many musicians trying to make it big in the internet age, but he says it is tough to do in France. He thinks the law protects record companies and a few established artists at the expense of both new talent and the average web user.

“I understand it’s necessary to raise the question of what our society should do with the internet and how to manage it,” told RT Sam Goldszmidt. “Especially if you follow the lobby of the big companies and entertainment industry, who want to dominate the internet and treat it like all other means of communication to install control over everything and give us a ready-made soup of uninteresting stuff.”

Compared to the rest of Europe, France has harsh rules regulating copyright infringement and illegal downloading. Legislators have pushed through a second version of the country’s so-called HADOPI law. This controversial statute is named after the French agency created to oversee and regulate the internet.

The latest version gives a judge the authority to cut off someone’s web access if they have illegally downloaded more than three times.

France’s internet freedom commission has temporarily blocked enforcement of the law, which was due to go into effect this month, but Goldszmidt thinks the new law still doesn’t help artists like him.

“HADOPI would mean that authorities would watch all illegal downloading on the web. If you’re a musician, like me, and you make songs, you think you could call them and ask if anyone’s downloading your music illegally. They would refuse – it’s not their role,” Goldszmidt pointed out. “They just watch for a catalogue of, say, 15 million titles, very well-known and popular, that bring profit to the entertainment industry, to continue to pull the last penny out of those sales.”

There is another player in this debate: the French Pirate Party. They claim to represent people’s rights in the information age. Their main goal is to fight laws like HADOPI and preserve what they see as internet freedom.

The Pirate Party’s candidate Maxime Rouquet believes downloading is the key for musicians like Sam Goldszmidt.

“You have a positive effect of file sharing that makes a lot of people discover some cultural work they wouldn’t have discovered without file sharing,” he said.

He says once new artists become popular they can make money through online sales, concerts and merchandise, but record companies say France needs this law.

“A few years ago we had about 12 million internet users in France, more than 10 million downloaded files illegally,” claimes Benoit Solignac-Lecomte from SACEM, a professional association that helps protect artists’ rights in France. “So, as an association of artists, we found ourselves face-to-face with the social phenomenon. You cannot fight millions of pirates. We had to rethink our policies, and this reflection led to new legislation which is in place since 2007.”

These days, most French citizens access the internet at home, but cyber cafes are still popular. People there hope for a compromise – they want musicians to make money and they do not want strict laws regulating the net.

The major record labels are moving ahead with their efforts to curb illegal downloading in France, but with the worst offenders using technology to stay one step ahead of the law, it may end up being the ordinary user who gets caught in the web.