Hadopi French 3 strikes

After taking an aggressive stance against illegal music downloads in 2009 by passing the “Hadopi” law (Haute Autorité pour la Diffusion des Oeuvres et la Protection des droits sur Internet), France has gone more laissez-faire, opting, instead, to abandon its robust copyright infringement law for automated fines.

Under Hadopi, French internet users faced revocation of access if caught illegally downloading copyrighted material three times. Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French leader, saw full-bore enforcement as a way to prevent lawlessness on the net but the stringent measures he backed got caught up quickly in acrimony, with the Constitutional Council, the nation’s highest judicial body, declaring net access a basic human right.

Hadopi’s basic effectiveness also has been called into question; it has resulted in but prosecution of a net user since its passage. Still, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a key French trade group, claimed that the law’s mere introduction led to a 22.5 percent increase in purchases on Apple’s iTunes (instead of, it is presumed, comparable illegal downloading activity).

In a press release, French officials announced the nation now would focus on penalizing “commercial piracy” and websites profiting from piracy. Aurélie Filippetti, the minister of culture and communication, has called the three-strike system “totally inappropriate punishment.” In its place, France will put in an automatic system that assesses fines, starting at €60 and increasing with the number of infringements.

Even as France abandons Hadopi, U.S. internet service-providers like Time Warner and Verizon, with cheer-leading from the entertainment industry, have banded together to create a six-strike system that aims to deter online piracy in similar fashion. Each system sends net customer-subscribers accused of online piracy a series of alerts; these lead to punishment ultimately– denial of service or slowing broadband speeds to a crawl.  Verizon’s system has been described as less draconian than what would prevail under Hadopi; it recently was utilized in a copyright infringement suit involving BitTorrent.

Prospects for a “stick” approach to piracy — with lawsuits and huge penalties against illegal downloaders, many of them young enthusiasts or denials of service — slowly have lessened, as the music industry sees better options in “carrot” tactics; support for streaming services, which strike licensing deals, continues to grow, for example. In Norway, the burgeoning of streaming services has made some advocates giddy enough to wonder if a similar trend might take off in the U.S.

The industry, of course, is starved for good news after struggling for awhile now with the ravages of technology, especially the decline and disappearance of bundled  physical content, aka record albums and CDs; while streaming and mobile services have provided cause for some optimism, the sluggish economy has kept consumers’ wallets and purses in tight grip and a new estimate pegs industry revenue declines exceeding $4 billion over the last five years.