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France’s Internet Piracy three strikes law- out of line?

Rebecca Gill | 08 October 2010

In what some are calling draconian and others necessary, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has begun scanning hundreds of thousands of internet users in a bid to detect online piracy.

But commentators are suggesting that the move is an infringement of civil liberties, and near impossible to effectively enforce.

Internet users caught illegally downloading material such as music and movies are sent an e-mail, followed by a registered letter and, finally, have their internet connection disconnected for up to a year. Criminal sanctions include a fine of up to €300,000 and three years in prison.

With typical French insouciance, the Sarkozy government does not seem to see the ludicrous side of its new law. Princeton University Professor Ed Felten likens the legislation to cutting off households’ ink and paper supplies for ‘committing’ three dangerous acts of cut-and-paste!

But will employing more bureaucrats to chase individual internet users prevent them from pirating music and movies?

Questions are also being raised about the effectiveness of the law, which targets the internet connection owners rather than the individuals who download the illegal material.

Hackers are already bypassing the legislation, using free WiFi networks owned by cafés and universities to download copyrighted material. Will the copyright police storm the Café de Flore in Paris’ chic St Germain district or arrest the Dean of Students at the Sorbonne, one of Europe’s oldest universities?

While Britain is in the process of considering a similar anti-internet piracy law, internet libertarians are urging other countries not to follow the Gaullist suit. The digital economy of the future, they argue, should be protected and not restricted.

And France’s Constitutional Council is still examining the law, arguing that internet access is a ‘fundamental human right,’ just like water or electricity.

Here, in Australia, we often like to imitate the French way of life, but let’s stop at fashion, food and wine and not turn downloading from the net into a minefield of red tape and pirate policing.

Rebecca Gill is a Research Intern at The Centre for Independent Studies.