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Nice idea France, but it wont work

Friday, 23 November 2007 copyright terrorism

France plans to trivialise the crime of file-sharing, a good move, making the punishment a few warnings then severing your internet connection. Look slightly deeper in to what this could mean, however, and it doesn’t take too long to see that this could fund terrorism.

I just saw a story titled “France unveils anti-piracy plan” pop up on my BBC Tech RSS feed. I thought they may have found a new an ingenious method of telling the global media to sit on their own DRM and it turns out I was half right. However, the lengths they’ve gone strips people of their privacy and if this proves to be an inadequate deterrent, could send France back to the '60s in terms of their IT workforce. And even if it does work, it’s going to finance terrorism.

In short, the plan announced by President Nicolas Sarkozy is this:

So the pros. France gets better, legitimate content faster. Faster than what is another question though… French cinema releases of English and American titles have months of delays. If they’re talking about globally releasing DVDs at the same time, this could well beat the cinema releases. If that’s not what they’re talking about, there’s still a huge incentive to pirate. Note that plenty of DVDs sold in America and the UK have French audio tracks, so they are a viable commodity.

A real plus is that France is acknowledging that casually sharing a few files is not a major offence, and therefore any action taken against it should be equally trivial. Reporting, then warning and then maybe even another warning before any action is taken. People have a spate of second-chances with which to stop sharing. This is great.

But do these two things outweigh the cons? Privacy is something that just goes flying out the window here. Under this scheme, the government endorses, even funds a country-wide version of America’s beautiful Media Defender, just this time with direct access to everything you do online.

Then there’s the fact that persistent offenders lose their internet access. The BBC article doesn’t detail the terms of internet suspension, but if this is a prolonged period, it could seriously harm the quality of education for people still in education.

The group who brokered the deal said the measures were intended to curb casual piracy rather than tackle large scale pirate groups.

This, I think, raises one of the biggest oversights of this whole plan. Assuming this is a great deterrent, does the government and big-media really think that all the people that pirated before will spring out the credit card and start buying stuff at full price? There is still going to be the same massive demand for free (or extremely cheap) illegal material and by stopping online, free piracy, you’re giving organised pirating outfits a massive boost to business. They’re the people that supposedly fund terrorism!

All in all I think the heart is in the right place. The focus group clearly wanted to leverage some sort of plausible triviality to file-sharing “crimes” — they don’t want the WTO barking sanctions at them, after all — but the price they’ve paid: in privacy, in funding organised crime and turning the clocks back on their IT education programmes just seems too high.

But this would solve the problem of the brown 2010.