France legislature's rejection of internet anti-piracy bill thwarts corporate interests

The controversial HADOPI bill against filesharing was rejected by the French National Assembly in a very surprising move last week, at the final vote of the emergency procedure in which it was considered, with only one reading in each chamber. Such a last minute rejection happened for the last time in 1983, and is a strong political blow for Nicolas Sarkozy and his minister Albanel. This law faced strong opposition coming from members of all the political parties, driven by a formidable and wide citizen movement lead from the Internet by La Quadrature du Net and others. The law is nonsensical, inapplicable and dangerous for numerous reasons: It allows for parallel administrative justice where innocents will be sanctioned based on immaterial proofs, private police of the network in the hands of corporate actors, and its Article 5 opens very disturbing doors to generalized filtering of content.

The French law "Création et Internet" (or HADOPI) allows the entertainment industries to make the police themselves on the internet, in order to collect proofs of alleged copyright infringements. These private actors transmit those immaterial proofs, unverifiable and impossible to oppose, to a newly created adminitrative authority, the HADOPI. It then engages procedures in which alleged counterfeiters are menaced then sanctioned by up to 12 months of disconnection from Internet access (during which the connection still has to be paid, and no reconnection is possible on any other operator). Citizens cannot oppose such accusations by claiming their innocence before the sanction is ordered, and have no material way of doing so.

This scheme will inevitably end up sanctioning innocent people, as the factors for error are multiple (private actors making up the police, sanctions based only on immaterial proofs, many factors for an IP address to be used against a user's will, etc.).

But beyond this, the core principles that are the basis for this law are wrong. It is based on the fact that filesharing is the most important cause for the decline of recorded music sales (when the French cinema has its record year for ticket sales and investment in 2008!) which is wrong. Many serious studies, the most recent being lead by the governments of Canada and the Netherlands, show in fact that the whole cultural economy benefits from filesharing, and that people who share the most are people who spend the most for cultural products. This law can thus only be a bad solution to the wrong problem.

In the context of the current economical crisis, such a law, obviously designed to please the illusions of entertainment industries that still think they can prolong their business models based on selling copies, seems futile and archaic. Add to this that any 12 year old kid can already circumvent it in many easy ways.

Yet, as president Sarkozy was personnally commited to passing this law since he was elected, there are high chances that, as announced a few minutes after the rejection, it will be presented again to the parliament and passed "en force" with a locked down majority. In that case, the Constitutional Council will have the opportunity to invalidate any of the multiple points that are contrary to the most fundamental principles of a due trial, protection of privacy, and separation of powers, thus hopefully neutralizing the more harmful aspects of the legislation.

HADOPI is just one illustration of a growing global will towards increased control over the internet, to suit corporate and political interests in France and elsewhere in the world.