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article imageFrance continues to plan tough new laws for the Internet

By Michael Cosgrove     Jul 3, 2009 in Internet
The French government is actively looking for new methods of penalising illegal file downloading from the Net, and is also examining ways of embedding emails and forums within a legal framework. The new law will be presented to parliament on July 20.
The Hadopi Law is a law which stipulates what is legal and illegal in terms of downloading files from the internet in France. It also contains a graduated scale of punishment for offenders. Punishment ranges from a warning to a jail sentence.
The French Senate, which examines and validates all law voted by Parliament, asked the government to water down some of the more controversial aspects of the bill, including certain punishments for illegal downloading. The Government had no choice but to comply in order to see its law become ratified.
But the Government and the President have not given up the fight to see their wishes enshrined in law. On the contrary. They are examining measures that may be included in a complementary law to Hadopi which would make it even more repressive than the original.
An example of this is the reintroduction of certain clauses relative to artistic copyright which had nevertheless been refused in a first parliamentary vote.
Email and forums are also under scrutiny.
The complementary law has been dubbed ‘Hadopi 2’ in Internet circles and by the French press.
This new legislatory offensive is largely being seen as an extremely determined effort by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to have a more tightly regulated Internet come to fruition. He is expected in particular to try to reduce opposition in his own majority government against certain clauses by threatening to use his power of control over who is appointed to ministries and other important and prestigious positions in the government in order to sanction dissidents and critics.
His failure to contain criticism within his own ranks of what is now called Hadopi 1 was one of the reasons that the Senate insisted on certain changes being made to it.
The new law will address two main issues; “Online services to the public” in other words the internet, including peer to peer services, and, for the first time, “Means of electronic communication” in other words emails and forums.
The inclusion of email in any law controlling the internet will surely lead to heated parliamentary debate.
During Hadopi 1 the idea was withdrawn after an onslaught of opposition, including that of certain government members. It is this opposition that the government and Sarkozy will attempt to muzzle this time.
Another clause, refused last time by the Senate, concerns the possibility of forcing an internet subscriber to continue to pay his subscription to an internet provider even though he has been cut off from the net for breaking downloading laws.
All of these new ideas were discussed during a Ministerial Council meeting dedicated to the subject.
The official name for Hadopi 2 is causing controversy in itself. It is called ‘The penal protection of literary and artistic property on the internet.’ This means that the French Justice Ministry would enforce it too, whereas Hadopi 1 is only enforced by the Culture ministry. This has large implications concerning how many government resources would be thrown into the battle to control internet use.
Concerning sanctions, the original law intended that the administration itself could punish offenders, but the Senate ruled that it must be done in a court of law, that which made the law inoperable in practical terms because of the shortage of judges.
This clause will be respected, but the government is looking to get around it by considering a new kind of simplified trial procedure in which only one judge would be needed to judge a suspect, instead of the three usually used in French trials.
In another clause, the government is considering sanctioning internet users for what it calls “Characterised Negligence” of the securisation of their internet access.
The fifth and final clause aims to make taking out another internet subscription whilst being cut from the internet by the current provider a jail-able offence.
The end result would be a more efficient extension of the current three-pronged ‘Warning – Fine – Jail’ graduated scale of sentencing, as well as as yet unspecified legislation concerning email and forum use.
French politicians are majoritarily in favour of certain controls, and their language can sometimes be quite inventive.
“Illegal down-loaders are the dangerous drivers of the internet” Frédéric Mitterand, Culture Minister.
Jack Lang, ex Socialist Culture Minister, likens controls to a radar that flashes speeding cars.
Henri Guaino, a Deputy finds it curious that “The right to internet is even more fiercely protected than the right to access water and electricity.”
Françoise de Panafieu, a well-known political figure in Paris, assures that “Authorising file piracy is like legalising shoplifting.”
Other proponents of legislation are quite simply asking “in what possible way could access to the internet be considered as being a fundamental right?” They point out that if that is the case, then simple logic would demand that internet service providers be forbidden from cutting internet access to bad payers.
The Law will be examined on July 20, when most of France will be on holiday and traditionally inattentive to what happens in parliament.
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