Ignorance, legislative stupidity, and the French three-strikes piracy bill

Yesterday, French MPs approved a portion of a new copyright bill that would see suspected online pirates get their Internet access disabled after two warnings. I’m sure many of you couldn’t care less about French law, but the “three strikes and you’re out” approach to online copyright law enforcement seems to be spreading like wildfire. It’s already generated interest (and sometimes more) in Britain, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, and South Korea. If the RIAA had its way, Americans might soon face similar measures.

In theory, I have no qualms with Internet service providers giving recidivist pirates the boot. Hey, if one of your customers is screwing around and getting you in trouble, you shouldn’t have to put up with it. However, the French proposal—and what some other governments hope to implement—is considerably more insidious, dangerous, and fundamentally misguided.

Here’s how Christine Albanel, France’s Minister for Culture and Communication, wants things to go down:

  • The government creates a new independent regulatory agency called “HADOPI.” The name means something like “High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet.”
  • Copyright holders monitor the Internet and supply HADOPI with the IP addresses of suspected pirates.
  • HADOPI contacts ISPs to obtain the identities of users with flagged IP addresses.
  • First-time offenders get an e-mail warning from HADOPI. Second-time offenders get a warning through certified mail. Third-time offenders get their Internet access cut off for two months to a year—although they can reduce that to one month if they swear not to do it again and not to fight the sanction in court.

But that’s no big deal, right? You could just sign up at another ISP? Well, no. HADOPI would effectively blacklist alleged repeat offenders, preventing them from purchasing Internet service as long as their suspensions are effective. According to Le Figaro, Mrs. Albanel claims users could avoid having their net access cut off if they installed software that blocks “certain sites and programs that let one download [copyrighted works illegally].”

Now, anyone with the slightest bit of technical knowledge should be able to see at least several flaws with that system:

  • First of all, users are presumed guilty until they, somehow, prove their innocence. I don’t think Mrs. Albanel has clearly stated how someone wrongly accused would go about convincing HADOPI that he didn’t pirate Saw IV. Can you imagine a technically illiterate small-business owner or grandmother faced with their second warning? What are they supposed to do, exactly?
  • Let me say that again: you’re presumed guilty until proven innocent. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, anyone? No? Okay…
  • Because Wi-Fi networks—and tools for breaking into them—are so widely available, pirates could easily use the connection of a neighbor or nearby business to download the latest Evanescence album or Nicholas Cage movie. That brings us back to my first point.
  • Mrs. Albanel suggests owners of public Wi-Fi networks aggressively secure them and use (presumably government-supplied) filtering software to block pirate sites, but that’s hardly a realistic solution. Large-scale web filtering doesn’t work in China, and it wouldn’t work in France—whether mandatory or not. Some legit sites would be mistakenly blacklisted, while some pirate sites would slip through the cracks. And pirates would find workarounds.
  • Similarly, since the French government wants to give copyright holders free reign to get as many suspected pirates off the net as possible, a number of innocent users would receive warnings because of simple false positives. Oh, and according to a 2008 paper by the University of Washington, “practically any Internet user can be framed for copyright infringement today.” That paper describes how the University eventually received a DMCA notice for a printer’s IP address, too. Awesome.

That’s not even going into the ridiculous costs of implementing these measures. One article by Numerama points out that identifying users through IP addresses would cost HADOPI €8.50 a pop, which would induce yearly costs of €31 million ($41.7 million) if the agency sends 10,000 warnings a day (a figure the president of the ARMT suggests). Another Figaro article says the government would also have to pay for new ISP billing systems needed to implement the law, which would cost about €70 million ($94.3 million). In other words, taxpayers would pay dearly for measures that could see their Internet access unjustly disabled, all theoretically to pad the bottom lines of copyright holders. I say “theoretically” because folks who pirate music and movies now aren’t necessarily going to go out and buy them when their Internet access gets cut off. Most likely, they’ll either buy less content or find other piracy avenues—like good old DVD and CD burning.

I suppose I should refrain from making this blog post too politically loaded, but this three-strikes bill is so absurd, so reprehensibly stupid, and so obviously flawed to anyone with even the slightest bit of technical knowledge, I just don’t see how France’s majority party (not to mention the French president himself) can still back it. Twice now, the European Parliament has approved legislation to make such “three strikes and you’re out” measures illegal, yet the French government seems to be going full steam ahead.

What bewilders me most is that a nation so fond of public protests hasn’t reacted more strongly. I mean, French college students have been on strike on and off for the past couple of months over the latest university reforms. If students all over the country—who, need I remind you, receive their education practically free of charge and get government benefits to boot—have no qualms about mass strikes, where’s the mass public uproar over this bill? We’re talking about a country with 66% Internet penetration and the world’s fifth largest economy here; it’s not like the French are too busy making baguettes and cheese to care about the Internet.

As some of you might know, I currently reside in France and work online, so this proposed legislation could be particularly troublesome for me. Now, I make a point to purchase music, games, and movies whenever possible. However, I’m currently forced to resort to BitTorrent to download TV shows, because sites like Hulu and ABC.com block access to users in Europe, and I have no interest in watching French-dubbed versions of previous seasons available here. Some music just isn’t available through legal download sites, either.

Since this legislation wouldn’t resolve those little conundrums, I’d have to stop watching a good chunk of U.S. TV just to keep my job. Or perhaps I’d have to subscribe to a VPN service to cloak my online activities from prying eyes. In either case, though, I could still get flagged as a pirate because of some record company’s screw-up. And what then?

People are always going to pirate copyrighted content. That’s just the way it is, and you can’t curb it through mass lawsuits or absurdly repressive government legislation. Copyright holders like the MPAA, RIAA, and their foreign equivalents just need to realize two things: one, piracy doesn’t automatically translate into lost sales. If a broke college kid downloads a new movie every night, it’s only because he can do it for free. Two, people with money—you know, actual potential customers—will favor legal avenues if they’re simpler and faster than piracy. Imagine if, the day a movie comes out in theaters, it’s available online in HD format for the price of a movie ticket or slightly less. Are gainfully employed consumers really going to bother hopping on BitTorrent to download shaky-cam rips from Eastern Europe?

Comments closed
    • Jason181
    • 11 years ago

    I, for one, am sick and tired of the entitlement mentality of the masses. I’ll gladly “prove my innocence” if it means that it curbs the rampant piracy, hopefully with a side of gratuitous punishment to the offenders.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 11 years ago

      Wow, so ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and ‘burden of proof on the prosecution’ are entitlement mentality? If you’re from the USA where those concepts are part of the basis of the legal system I just shake my head and sigh.

        • Jason181
        • 11 years ago

        Yes, I /[

          • DrDillyBar
          • 11 years ago

          We’ve already paid for the privilege of seeing the content, for the most part. This is why TV Tuners were invented. Fair usage rights from the VCR days. I’m not refering to Music or Movies generally here I suppose.

          • d2brothe
          • 11 years ago

          *blinks*….Where does it end. Surrender a little freedom here, a little there, national security here, curbing piracy there, pretty soon we’ve got nothing left.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 11 years ago

    I predict in the next 2-6 years there will be a ‘cyber attack’ in some 1st world country that will be used as an excuse to take away the current relative freedom of the internet. Of course it won’t do anything to stop such attacks in the future, motivated criminals commiting crimes always find a way around security and the law, but will negatively affect the experience of law-abiding folks (no, copyright infringing is not law-abiding.) I don’t like the way the way things are going ever since fear has become the main way

    • puppetworx
    • 11 years ago

    I’m from the UK – similar ideas are being discussed here. I wouldn’t be opposed to a bill like this as long as it did not presume guilt, however continental Europeans tend not to value their freedoms as much as British and Americans(hence all the dictators) and this explains their different legal framework. Should a bill like this pass in the US then yes you should defintely start some shit. I dont think it will come to that though.

      • format_C
      • 11 years ago

      q[<...Europeans tend not to value their freedoms as much as British and Americans...<]q And having gazillions of surveillance cameras in public places all across UK is "freedom". Yeah, right...

        • clone
        • 11 years ago

        1st thought that came to my mind as well.

        another example of why it’s all about presentation and illusion.

        • puppetworx
        • 11 years ago

        Maybe I am missing something, what do security cameras have to do with freedom?

          • Meadows
          • 11 years ago

          Beats me. People may confuse security with control, probably because the first layer of lacquer on the frame of dictatorship is actually claims of security.

    • tech329
    • 11 years ago

    Once upon a time private face to face conversations were just that. The only thing that has changed over time is the introduction of technology which modifies how that conversation is conducted in the physical sense.

    The capturing of private communication is now being undertaken purely because it is possible. This clearly violates individual privacy. Just because the method of communication has changed over time doesn’t give a government or anyone a right to eavesdrop on a private communication.

    There is another problem with much of this because our government and governments in general too often hide beihind the cloak of national security. The vast majority of internal government communications has nothing to do with national security and thus the rules being applied to citizens must be equally applied to government. If anything, governments have a lesser right to privacy than citizens for the simple reason that governments ostensibly are acting on behalf of citizens and thus citizens hold an inherent right to know the manner in which their interests are being represented. In the U.S. at least this is codified in the Constitution where we are supposedly guaranteed equal representation. As a practical matter that is routinely violated every day.

      • Corrado
      • 11 years ago

      When you’re using infrastructure that belongs to someone else, its not a PRIVATE face to face conversation. If someone is in your house, that you own, then yes, its private. If you’re calling someone over another company’s lines and switches, then no, its not private.

    • fpsduck
    • 11 years ago

    Big Brother is watching you!

    Ministry of Truth.

      • FubbHead
      • 11 years ago

      Amen to that.

      • LurkingFool
      • 11 years ago

      Umm…you are keeping in mind the difference between copyright and patent right? I might agree with you that 95 years might be a little much, given the level of rights reserved. However, copyright hinders what, exactly? Your ability to use someones creativity? hmmm, ok. Such an injustice! What, can’t you come up with anything original of your own? Where’s your creativity? Now I would be for relaxing the copyright laws for cases of _[

    • hans
    • 11 years ago

    Don’t forget the slimy way this bill was passed.

    • XDravond
    • 11 years ago

    Haaaa what a wonderful world we live in…

    I live in sweden but dont worry they seem to hate technology her to… the 1st april a law that makes it okay for the “small inoccent artist that hardly earn any money due to the piracy” (e.g. the big fat rich companys) have the right to get the adress and name behind a IP-adress… and send letter asking for money or get sued the law is called IPRED, thank you piratebay for the laugh whit your service IPredator….(I dont use it i just gues that they wont be able to sue everyone that download ileagly its about at least evry 10th person aprox 1million people nice law aye gues i wont be voting for them next election…)

    for some reason more and more countries seem to make laws against the use of new technology whitout having any laws to force the big companys to create useful realtivly cheap ways of download legaly

    MONEY RUELES F¤¤K HUMAN RIGHTS (ps everyone is guilty until they have money to claim the oposite)

      • MadManOriginal
      • 11 years ago

      There’s one sad thing about democracy, even if you use your vote to kick out a representative it doesn’t necessarily mean that one’s reason for doing so gets affected unless you’re fortunate and someone who says ‘I will work to reverse this’ runs, gets elected, and is actually able to reverse it.

    • juampa_valve_rde
    • 11 years ago

    That kind of law is insane. Hope they revoke it. Its not by the piracy (there are already ways to jump this “protection”), but for the people that will be marked being innocent. I agree that the “originals” will become popular when they become easier to get/buy than the “pirated” ones. The thing is that if you download any file (original or not), you always have the chance of copy it, give it to friends, without losing the original copy (like ideas, i give you one, you gave me one, both have two), KOPIMI! And that cannot be avoided easily, computers work that way

    • Jakubgt
    • 11 years ago

    RIAA = Fail

    Simple as that

    • kitsura
    • 11 years ago

    Hooray to shaky-cam rips from Eastern Europe!

    • indeego
    • 11 years ago

    I find it somewhat humorous that one portion of the TR pie is upset about inability to access his copyrighted content illegally, while the site owner attempts to block users that mention a certain technology that prevents revenue generation. Have, you guys, like /[

      • Cyril
      • 11 years ago

      I’m upset about not being able to access copyrighted content (American TV shows) /[

        • DrDillyBar
        • 11 years ago

        No Option is not an option.

        • indeego
        • 11 years ago

        Let me point out the illegal part of your post.

        /[<"However, I'm currently *[

          • travbrad
          • 11 years ago

          It sounds to me like he has a gripe with both this bill (which has implications far beyond just stopping pirates) AND the distribution methods used by hollywood, etc, not one or the other. Obviously the two are interrelated as well.

            • Cyril
            • 11 years ago

            q[

          • Aphasia
          • 11 years ago

          Bittorrent isnt illegal, its just about as illegal as HTTP. Not to mention there are alot of perfecly legal uses for distributing via Torrents. Even on pirate bay you get independant releases from people that use instead of an expensive hosting service when they have a movie, etc.

          But yeah, you are correct that the act is still illegal, even if no other venues of getting hold of the material exists.

            • indeego
            • 11 years ago

            Thank you. Now instead of me quoting Cyril verbatim he’ll understandg{<.<}g

    • PRIME1
    • 11 years ago

    l[

    • lycium
    • 11 years ago

    Net 3.0: VPNs everywhere.

    The original New Zealand “3 strikes” law (section 49a) hasn’t been passed so we’re still doing OK for now, and a friend who’s doing exchange in China gets by fine with a VPN so that’s probably where things will go. TPB is already there…

    BTW it’s great to see someone make proper use of the phrase “*[

      • MadManOriginal
      • 11 years ago

      net 3.0 will be average people running interconnected WiMax or other wireless networks to bring back the freedom of the early Internet, the decline of which we are currently witnessing.

    • nerdrage
    • 11 years ago

    q[

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    Great, now the next big wasteful government fad is going to be “The War on Piracy!”. >_<

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      Better than global warming efforts, but not as good as whaling-related ones. Next round, piracy takes it to the ring with electric cars, we’ll see which achieves political importance.

      • BiffStroganoffsky
      • 11 years ago

      Talk-like-a-pirate-day will probably be outlawed as part of the war.

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        Oh no, the implications.

      • stmok
      • 11 years ago

      …Then, they’ll disguise more draconian measures by insisting on ISP level Content Filters to “protect the children from pedophiles”…Follow this up by expanding the blacklist to whatever they deem “illegal”. (Which, no doubt, will include P2P protocols in the future).

        • Krogoth
        • 11 years ago

        ROFL, what the hell happened to personal responsibility?

        The issue is really about a few morons who are on a power trip. It is Ironic that they are giving that “power” to the real masterminds behind cyber-crime and professional piracy.

        I guess the Prohibition is a distant memory now. At least I remember from history books on how well it worked.

    • Obsidian
    • 11 years ago

    I’ve written several e-mail’s to my ISP AT&T that if they ever implement something like this or a bandwidth cap that I will be switching ISP’s. Everyone I know that uses P2P networks to pirate software already spends all the money they can afford to on such things. Like Cyril said, companies need to realize that, for the most part, they aren’t actually losing money from people pirating software. Luckily many university professors are publicly calling out the stupidity of such companies.

    The issue with ISP’s capping bandwidth is just a complete scam trying to screw over their consumer which I hope many vehemently protest in the US.

      • Corrado
      • 11 years ago

      No, its really not. I’ve said this 100 times in the forums, but at least for Comcast (I work there, I know the true INTERNAL policy), you do not get cut off for merely hitting the quota. If you are in the top .5% of bandwidth users for a given month, your account gets flagged. Someone does a spot check fo your usage. If its 90% torrents, you get a letter saying ‘hey, knock it off.’ If you get flagged again in the next THREE months, then you get cut off for a month and a more serious talking to.

      Conversely, if they look at your usage, and its XBox live movies, Youtube, Hulu, Steam, etc… aka LEGITIMATE sources, they will simply remove the flag from your account. Why should Comcast, or any other ISP let other legitimate customers experience degraded service because of a select few people doing illegal things (in most cases. Don’t tell me that someone is seeding Linux torrents 24/7 at full speed for months on end) and monopolizing the shared bandwidth on a given network node?

      If you’re on a toll road, and people are racing back and forth, swurving, and keeping traffic behind them moving slowly, would you not want the police to do something about it? After all, they paid to use the road didn’t they?

        • mthguy
        • 11 years ago

        I want the company to provide the service they purport to sell. I should be able to use the bandwidth I pay for in what ever way I see fit. If comcast can’t provide me with the 8MBit service 24/7 then don’t tell me that is what I am paying for. After all they charge more for higher download speed and larger bandwidth, but they then don’t truly allow me to use it in the way that i wish to use it.

          • Corrado
          • 11 years ago

          They don’t purport to let you use it ANYWAY YOU WANT to use it. Its unlimited internet access. Its when you start to affect the other people’s ability to use the bandwidth they also pay for that it becomes an issue. Would you sing the same tune if everyone on your block started saturating their lines and you weren’t able to pull your 8mbit/sec EVER?

            • MadManOriginal
            • 11 years ago

            His point was that everyone should always be able to use the advertised bandwidth therefore no one would ever not be able to pull it – the old false advertising, oversold/undercapable argument that’s been done to death.

            • Flying Fox
            • 11 years ago

            Then it has as much to do with the provider cheaping out by oversubscribing nodes and not expand on the infrastructure. If you can’t handle the load don’t sell the service.

            Like airlines and overbooking, you need to get that happy medium. If all the overbooked passengers do show up you need the ability to handle them, not “you are SOL sir, and we are not refunding your ticket”.

            • Corrado
            • 11 years ago

            All systems are oversold. Cell phones, Airlines, Trains, Powergrids, Cable TV. Its just the way the world works. You’ve never gotten an ‘All Circuits are Busy Now’ message at 5pm on a Friday when you’re trying to call someone? Do you know what would happen if everyone drew the full aperage of the lines to their house?

    • Game_boy
    • 11 years ago

    Imagine you have Linux, and your net access gets cut off under these rules. The government will say you have to install certain software, which is likely to have a Windows/Mac version only knowing how governments view alternative OSs. Are the government really going to force you to buy a new OS just to access the internet?

    Even if it does have a Linux version (I’ll be amazed), substitute an even more obscure OS and you have the same problem.

      • cheesyking
      • 11 years ago

      I’d install it in wine… sure it doesn’t work properly, but it’s installed as per the court order.

    • flip-mode
    • 11 years ago

    q[

      • tfp
      • 11 years ago

      Is this even legal?

      • evermore
      • 11 years ago

      Not even the only option. Plenty of people he knows in the US. They could burn things to disc or USB drive and mail them. (Oh horrors, being a few days behind everybody else. :-)) Or use a proxy in the US. Pirating is the only option that gets the shows for free and with no effort.

      And now the entire post is invalidated because of that one line. 😀 I forget the name/phrase that means doing that.

        • Cyril
        • 11 years ago

        q[

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 11 years ago

      No one is forcing you to watch the shows. Agreed.

      • d2brothe
      • 11 years ago

      The point that he is making–I think– is that the media companies are not even providing a legal way for him to acquire this media. I mean, yes, it is their right not to sell it if they don’t want to–but he would buy it if he could. Its just an example of the best way to curb piracy is not to do this shit, but to actually you know…try to get your customers to like you…maybe…sell them some stuff conviniently.

    • tfp
    • 11 years ago

    r[

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 11 years ago

    Yea, this is just another classic case with politicians with too much power and very little knowledge. Happens all the time and they better get their lawyers (future politicians) to check the law before passing it. I mean, there has to be at least one smart person on the legislator committee. No?

    Personally, I don’t think it will pass, but then what do I know of politics?

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 11 years ago

      I notice nobody corrects my English… Cuz I’m deaf? Where’s Meadows?

    • adisor19
    • 11 years ago

    Rumors have been flying around in Canada as well of a similar push for such a law. Heck, Videotron, a local cable ISP owned by the media conglomerate known as Quebecor, publicly admitted to being a GOOD idea. :s

    Things are not looking good for the internet user in Canada.

    Adi

    • SubSeven
    • 11 years ago

    Viva La France!!!! This is why the less money the government has, the better it is for everyone. Less taxes = less government = less waste & stupidty. Problem is that we (as a society) have become so decadent that our levels of personal responsibility are virtually non-existent these days; and because of this, we give the government money because we believe that it can decide what’s best for us better than we can….

    Sorry for the rant, but this topic never fails to irritate the **** out of me and seeing stuff like this drives me absoletely nuts. Cyril, as I can sense your frustration and believe me when I tell you that I know exactly where you’re coming from.

    • Buzzard44
    • 11 years ago

    To you blog, I say: +1

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      +2

        • SomeOtherGeek
        • 11 years ago

        +3

          • BoBzeBuilder
          • 11 years ago

          +4

            • SecretMaster
            • 11 years ago

            Oh what the hell. +5

            • no51
            • 11 years ago

            +6

            boo character limit.

            • DrDillyBar
            • 11 years ago

            +7

            • kvndoom
            • 11 years ago

            Eleventy! now stop it! 😛

            3 strikes, bandwidth caps… I see much bleakness 5 years from now. Once more countries start adopting these policies, the US will find it easier to get them passed.

            • DrDillyBar
            • 11 years ago

            I did it because of the character limit comment.

    • Flying Fox
    • 11 years ago

    There were some reports about the French legislators having little to no knowledge about the tech involved here too.

    Today’s Shortbread reported that internet traffic in Sweden was reduced by 30% and the officials were quick to take credit for IPRED. Care to comment on that too?

      • DrDillyBar
      • 11 years ago

      Considering they want users to install always-on monitoring software and block tools and sites (read anything torrent related) arbitrarily, I’d say they really do have no idea how computers work.

      • FubbHead
      • 11 years ago

      People will always find ways. So in a sense, while IPRED probably will stop casual “pirates” in the short term, it will increase public knowledge about these things. But people will learn, and hide again.

      The day internet piracy can be observed and controlled, that’s the day we’re worse than todays China.

        • Krogoth
        • 11 years ago

        It is “impossible” to completely control an internet that inherently designed to be decentralized and have redundancy.

        The entire policy is a fool’s errand that will ironically end-up giving the underground world (professional piracy and cyber-criminals) more power and $$$$$.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 11 years ago

    I wondered if you were going to blog on this topic Cyril. 🙂

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