France Considers Severe Anti-Piracy Bill

PARIS - The French parliament is debating a severe anti-piracy bill that has drawn protests from opposition party members and free-speech advocates throughout the nation.

Spearheaded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the legislation would create a state surveillance agency to monitor online use, while illegal downloaders would appear on a blacklist, losing Internet access for up to one year.

Based on a "three strikes" approach agreed-upon last year by government officials, offenders would first receive an e-mail warning followed by a registered letter and then a complete cut-off if illicit activities continue. French Internet service providers would be expected to inform on illegal downloaders to music and film companies.

While the bill has already passed the French senate, it's expected to meet with greater resistant in parliament. French bloggers and tech experts have decried the government plans as unfair and unworkable, reports UK newspaper The Guardian.

According to estimates, in 2006 alone, 1 billion files were illegally downloaded in France. A recent poll found nearly 60 percent of the country's youth, 18-24 years old, continue to download files illegally, and one in three among the nation's 30 million Internet users have taken part in some form of Internet piracy. Culture minister Christine Albanel claims France is "number one" worldwide in illegal downloading.

As with other nations, music and film companies claim piracy has resulted in a revenue loss of more than 50 percent in the past five years.

Yahoo reports via AFP that famous French performers such as Johnny Hallyday and Charles Aznavour are backing the bill and Sarkozy's wife, singer and former model Carla Bruni, has become a national poster girl of sorts against piracy.

To encourage the passing of the bill, France's film and music industries plan to offer films and music to online to a greater degree as downloads, also eliminating DRM locks on files.

The legislation is opposed by the country's Socialist party, which called it "an assault on public and individual liberties." Socialist MP Christian Paul, a Socialist MP believes the bill would lead to greater surveillance of the Internet and French society.

"Criminalizing a whole generation is a dead end," he said, according to The Guardian.

French economist Jacques Attali called the bill and its provisions "scandalous and absurd," adding that it "paves the way for blanket surveillance" of Web usage. Other opponents include the vocal consumer-rights group UFC-Que Choisir, which said it's a "legal monstrosity."

Concerns also include families or businesses being punished if a minor or employee downloads illegally, or if their Internet service is hijacked via Wi-Fi or other means.

Another tact is being taken by French economic association ACSEL, representing 180 high-tech and online firms. The organization has asked officials to table the bill and partner with entertainment operations to find other anti-piracy solutions.

"We need to be working on new business models, not bringing in measures we know won't work," said ASCEL Chief Pierre Kosciusko-Morizetm.

ArsTecnica explained the stringent bill is officially titled "Création et Internet," but is also known as the "Loi Olivennes" for Denis Olivennes, of French electronics firm FNAC, whose group HADOPI promoted the legislation, now also called HADOPI.

Should the bill pass, France would join the U.S., Ireland and Italy as nations planning to unplug Internet copyright violators.

A new law in New Zealand was put on hold last month following a "blackout" protest online and Wednesday; that country's largest ISP, TelstraClear, pulled out of copyright code talks. Nations including Britain, Germany and Sweden have chosen not to enact user cut-off policies. Yet.