France’s version of SOPA – reports show HADOPI anti-piracy law discourages file sharing

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In May 2009, the French government passed the HADOPI law – in French that’s Haute Autorité Pour la Diffusion des Oeuvres et la Protection des droits sur Internet, or “law promoting the distribution and protection of creative works on the internet.” Much like the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) debates that raged in the US a couple of months ago, there was a lot of opposition to the French anti-piracy bill. In large part, a determined effort by French President Nicolas Sarkozy helped the copyright law pass, though many in France still oppose it.

News flash: it seems to be working
According to the New York Times, a new report commissioned by HADOPI shows a sharp decline in file sharing over the past two and a half years, and another study by researchers at Wellesley College and Carnegie Mellon University suggests that HADOPI has boosted legal downloads through iTunes. From mid-2009 through mid-2011, iTunes sales rose much more strongly in France than in other European countries, which resulted, researchers estimate, in an additional €13.8 million a year worth of iTunes music sales in France.

That figure doesn’t include revenue generated by other legitimate digital music services, including streaming services like Spotify, so the researchers suggest the real revenue figure is probably even higher.

Other countries, including South Korea and New Zealand, have adopted similar anti-piracy measures. In South Korea, music sales rose 12% in 2010 and 6% in 2011, while sales in most other countries continued to decline.

What is the HADOPI law?

HADOPI creates a government agency with a mandate to ensure internet subscribers “screen their internet connections in order to prevent the exchange of copyrighted material without prior agreement from the copyright holders.”

It’s referred to as the “three-strikes law” because of the way it plays out when someone is found to be infringing on a copyright. Upon the receipt of a complaint from a copyright holder:

1) An email message is sent to the offender, derived from the IP address involved in the claim. The ISP (Internet Service Provider) is required to monitor the suspect internet connection, and the subscriber is invited to install a filter on his internet connection.

2) If a repeat offense is suspected by the copyright holder within six months of the first, a certified letter is sent to the offending internet subscriber with similar content to the original email message.

3) If, in the year following the receipt of the certified letter, further accusations by the copyright holder are leveled, the ISP is required to suspend internet access for a period of two to twelve months. The subscriber is blacklisted, so other ISPs are prohibited from providing service. The offender has to pay for internet service during the period of suspensions, as well as for any charges resulting from the service termination.

As of December 2011, according to the Times article, HADOPI has sent 822,000 “strike one” email warnings and 68,000 “strike two” warning letters. So far, 165 cases have gone on to the third stage, though significantly fewer than that seem to have made it to court.

Eric Walter, secretary general of HADOPI, points to the low number of third-stage offenses as a sign that HADOPI is working, saying “our work is to explain to people why piracy is a bad thing and why they should stop.”

Not everyone is on board
While the studies seem to indicate that the HADOPI law is having the desired effect, it has many detractors. As in the SOPA / PIPA debate stateside, the movie and music industries favor the system, while advocates of an open internet are fighting against it.

Opponents to the law include La Quadrature du Net, a group that campaigns against internet restrictions. Jérémie Zimmermann, the organization’s co-founder, says HADOPI has driven more people to use VPN software and other tools to avoid detection. Cases of “identity theft” via people hacking private Wi-Fi connections have also resulted in innocent people being charged, and groups like SOS HADOPI have arisen to help people appeal their third-strike violations.

The next French Presidential election comes up on April 22, 2012, and HADOPI is figuring into the dialogue. President Sarkozy (Union for a Popular Movement) insists that if re-elected, he would strengthen HADOPI, while Marine Le Pen (National Front), says she’ll replace the law with a “global license,” which would allow consumers to share content while artists receive payment, possibly funded by new taxes. François Hollande (Socialist Party) also opposes HADOPI.

Arguments leveled against HADOPI include concerns that the law can be too broadly interpreted, so that a copyright infringement charge becomes easy to level against most anyone. In fact, one article suggests that the HADOPI agency has accrued two strikes against itself by using an unlicensed font for its logo and an uncredited photo on its website. One more strike, the article suggests, and HADOPI will have to “disconnect itself from the net.”

Copyright Cheats Face the Music in France (New York Times)
HADOPI law (Wikipedia)
One More Copyright Infringement, And HADOPI Must Disconnect Itself From The Net (Tech Dirt)

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