France moves to cut off file sharers
New body to have powers to order ISPs to disconnect P2P users
The music industry has roundly welcomed the decision by French president Nicolas Sarkozy to disconnect internet users who share copyright files over P2P networks.
A Memorandum of Understanding, signed by music producers, audiovisual producers, internet service providers and the French government, provides for the creation of a body which will have the power to suspend or terminate an internet connection in the event of prolonged infringement.
The BPI, which represents UK record labels, says that the UK Government should follow France's lead if voluntary agreements cannot be reached with ISPs in this country.
"The French Government has recognised that the talent and investment of artists and innovators must be properly valued on the internet if the digital economy is to achieve its potential," says BPI chief executive, Geoff Taylor.
"We will continue to pursue voluntary arrangements, but unless these are achieved very soon we believe that the UK Government must act, as the French government has, to ensure that the urgent problem of internet piracy is tackled effectively."
Last month, Lord Triesman, the parliamentary Under Secretary for Innovation, Universities and Skills, told BBC Radio 4 that the UK Government is prepared to take action in the absence of voluntary agreements.
"Where people have registered music as an intellectual property I believe we will be able to match data banks of that music to music going out and being exchanged on the net," he claims.
But there appears to be little evidence that this can be reliably accomplished. John Lovelock, the director general of the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) acknowledged in a recent interview with PC Pro that file sharers have several means of disguising their activities, from using public or unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots to spoofing an IP address. Nonetheless he said that efforts to reduce file sharing have to start somewhere.
"It's a process of elimination," he said. "We put something into place and see if that reduces it. And if that reduces it but we still have a problem, we tease it out a little further."
Becky Hogge, executive director of The Open Rights Group, says there are several potential problems with the French proposals.
"I would be interested to see the details of the termination procedures, particularly provisions for customers to appeal against termination if they feel they have been inaccurately identified as illicit file sharers," she says. "Given the likelihood of false positives in technologies designed to filter out infringing content, I would be surprised if this experiment leads to anything but disgruntled customers - for ISPs and for the French recording industry both."
French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir was more outspoken, describing the decision as "very harsh, potentially repressive, anti-economic and against the grain of the digital age".