Pläne gegen „Internet-Piraterie“

(By Ben Hall in Paris, The Financial Times Ltd.)

Internet users in France who download music and films without paying for them could find their web access shut down by a government body, under a ground-breaking industry agreement backed by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The plan, which Mr Sarkozy is to endorse in a speech on Friday, will put France at the forefront of the battle against internet piracy with a three-strikes-and-you-are-out policy against repeat offenders.

The proposed enforcement body would use information collected by internet service providers on their high volume users to detect illegal file-sharing. Persistent offenders would be cautioned but could see their internet accounts suspended or terminated if they ignored as few as two warnings.

The proposals have been drawn up by an independent review headed by Denis Olivennes, the chairman of Fnac, a French entertainment retailer.

The music and film industries, internet service providers and the government are all likely to sign up to the plan.

In exchange for the clampdown on illegal downloading, the music industry has agreed to make individual downloads of archive French material available on all types of players by dropping digital rights management protection.

The French film industry has agreed to release DVDs more quickly after a film’s first cinema screening, reducing the delay from 7½ months to 6 months.

However, consumer groups and even some of Mr Sarkozy’s own members of parliament on Thursday attacked the proposal for a new internet policeman as a threat to civil liberties.

UFC-Que Choisir, a consumer association, said the plans were „very harsh, potentially repressive, anti-economic and against the grain of the digital age“. It pointed out that illegal downloading was already punishable by a prison term of up to three years.

Marc Le Fur and Alain Suguenot, both deputies from Mr Sarkozy’s UMP party, said in a statement that they deplored the proposal to confer judicial powers on an enforcement agency, saying the move „creates a truly exceptional jurisdiction for downloaders contravening the principle of equality before the law“.

Mr Sarkozy has taken a strong stand against internet piracy, raising the issue during his election campaign and appointing Mr Olivennes to lead the review soon after becoming president.

The president will use his speech on Friday to „underline his attachment to culture but also his wish to see artists live from their work and have their rights respected on new platforms“, his spokesman said.

The music industry has campaigned for ISPs to take action against the illegal file-sharers who operate through their services.

The IFPI, a trade body for the global recording industry, said more than 50 per cent of all internet traffic was so-called peer-to-peer file-sharing, much of it illegal.

The problem appears particularly acute in France because of the relatively high download speeds of its internet services.

Mr Olivennes this year highlighted the problem of illegal downloading in a book entitled Free is Theft, in which he argued that piracy stole funds from French culture by reducing the money raised by levies on cinema takings and pay-television.

The book accused ISPs of exploiting an abundance of pirated material on the web to recruit new subscribers. „It is a little like . . . big store chains putting out free stocks of stolen CDs and DVDs to attract new customers into their shops,“ he wrote.

Mr Olivennes appears now to have persuaded internet service providers to help the authorities police their own users more effectively.

To put in place the new enforcement body, the government would have to introduce legislation amending copyright, data protection, telecommunications and consumer protection laws, with a vote in parliament as soon as spring 2008.

(By Ben Hall in Paris, The Financial Times Ltd.)]