French antipiracy efforts unsuccessful

The French government started cracking down on illegal downloading, so users switched to illegal streaming

Hadopi—a wildly unpopular French antipiracy agency charged with seeking out illegal downloaders for prosecution—may be reorganized, assigned with new duties, or weakened, depending on the outcome of a report due out in mid-April. 

After two years in action, Hadopi has been found to be ineffective and expensive. Its 60 bureaucrats have spent more than 10 million euros per year warning 1.2 million French Internet users that their downloading habits are illegal. According to its own report released in September, the program has caused French netizens simply to switch from illegal downloading to illegally streaming their favorite movies, shows, and music.

“There has been no fundamental change in habits,” said Valérie-Laure Benabou, professor of intellectual property at the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin. “For me, the aim is not to catch and condemn people but to raise their consciousness,” she said, and Hadopi “failed to do that.”

In response to that failure, the new socialist president, Francoise Hollande, tasked a commission last year with finding ways to promote the country’s cultural works, like music and film, in the digital age and to more effectively fight counterfeiting. Lead by Pierre Lescure, a respected journalist formerly with the television station Canal+, the commission is scheduled to issue its findings on April 15.

Hadopi members have said they would like the Lescure Commission to widen their mandate to allow crackdowns on streaming, a right they currently do not have. In February, the group issued a working paper which members said should be viewed as a starting point for discussions. It suggests making it more difficult for potential users to find and use illegal streaming sites as well as asking intermediaries, like ISPs or search engines, to stop doing business with those sites. 

While Benabou cautioned that she is not privy to the inner workings of the Lescure Commission, she believed they were unlikely to adopt Hadopi’s working paper. 
Members “don’t appear to be buying the argument of more enforcement,” Benabou said. 

Neither does the public. 

“It’s censorship,” said Jérémie Zimmermann, cofounder of digital rights activist group La Quadrature du Net. He wants the commission to recommend legalizing peer-to-peer sharing. “If the law has a problem with common social practices, it’s not the people who must change, but the law,” Zimmermann said.

That is a message the French people have repeated during the last three months, when the commission held hearings throughout the country. 

The response by the public has created a rumor that the Lescure Commission could recommend abolishing Hadopi altogether. Benabou, the professor, said she believes the commission is more likely to change the agency’s mission to one of helping the cultural industry adapt to the market reality of the Internet.

“Hadopi is not an adequate response to the problems of cultural industries in the digital environment. It is not acceptable to label millions of adults as pirates and the thieves,” Michel Bonnet, who teaches communication and media history at the University of Burgundy, told the committee in January. 
Hadopi’s “three strikes” rule has similarities to a new US program called the copyright alert system; the CAS is administered by Internet Service Providers, not a government-appointed body, but both programs warn and penalize customers that they find to be violating copyrights.

Disclosure: CJR has received funding from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to cover intellectual-property issues, but the organization has no influence on the content.

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Alison Langley has more than 25 years experience in journalism as a reporter and editor. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The FT and The Independent. She currently lectures in journalism at Fachhochschule Wien and Webster University Vienna. Tags: , ,