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Science

One year on, French anti-piracy agency hasn't fully prosecuted offenders

Hadopi has named 60 French people who have reached their 'third strike' in online piracy warnings. But none of them have actually had their Internet access cut off by court order, as per the one-year-old French law.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has pushed Hadopi

One year ago this month, France began enforcing a controversial new anti-piracy law called Hadopi, which also established a government agency with the same name. In October 2010, the agency sent out the first warning emails to 650,000 French Internet users.

The idea of the law was that French Internet users would be given three chances if they were caught illegally downloading something - like music, films or software. The agency scans French Internet traffic to see if people are distributing unauthorized files.

Hadopi works on a "three strikes and you're out" system - suspected offenders are given three chances to mend their ways before their case is transferred to a judge, who can order that Internet access be cut off for a month, following a judicial hearing.

Since last October, 44,000 people have received a second strike. But only 60 people have received the final third strike. But no one has had their Internet connection cut off yet. The French Internet community is waiting to see if the government is actually willing to prosecute these cases.

Many offenders that the agency has identified so far say they are not worried about being cut off from the Internet entirely, as it remains to be seen how exactly the Hadopi agency will enforce this ban in practice.

Girl with iPod

Hadopi has been a way to help French intellectual property owners clamp down on piracy

Legal defense

French Internet experts also counter that many of the people who have been accused by Hadopi so far are not hardened online pirates who are flagrantly trying to circumvent the law. Typically, tech-savvy users know how to use virtual private networks (VPNs), proxies and other online tools to mask, conceal or anonymize their activity online, which makes it less likely for Hadopi to catch them.

"We try to explain [to accused users] how to protect their connection and we try to find evidence to help them have a good case against Hadopi," said Jérôme Bourreau-Guggenheim, co-founder of SOS Hadopi, a defense pool to help French Internet users protect themselves.

"Our customers are normal people, the normal families, who just want to be part of the Internet revolution," he told Deutsche Welle.

Hadopi has not educated the public, critics say

One of the most basic ways that SOS Hadopi helps Internet users protect themselves is by securing their wireless networks by adding passwords.

When people leave their WiFi networks open, neighbors can use it to download illegal files. If Hadopi catches them, it's the owner of the Internet connection - not the person actually using the network at that moment - who will be taken to court.

WiFi router

Critics say that Hadopi has not done enough to teach French users how to secure their WiFi networks

Another complaint is that Hadopi is supposed to teach people how to secure their networks, and stop others from using their Internet connection.

"Hadopi is supposed to provide you with a list of software that would permit you to secure your web access," said Marc-Antoine Ledieu, a Paris-based IT lawyer. He noted that the agency is supposed to issue a list of approved software to secure their connection.

"So far this list of software does not exist," he added. "So you are supposed to secure your web access but you cannot prove it."

Hadopi did not make anyone available for an interview for this story, but in previous statements the agency asserted work on such software was ongoing.

Ledieu says Hadopi should not hold people accountable for copyright infringement because pirates can easily crack these WiFi security codes, and use their Internet connection.

SOS Hadopi also works with a group of lawyers willing to defend their clients for free, even all the way up to their third, and final strike.

François Hollande

Socialist Party presidential candidate François Hollande has said if elected, he would repeal Hadopi

Politics remain a factor

Other observers say that domestic political pressure may influence the decision.

"It is very unlikely that anything will happen before the elections of 2012," said Jeremie Zimmermann, who runs the Internet advocacy organization, La Quadrature du Net.

He says French authorities will stop short of prosecuting Internet users because of France's presidential election next spring.

The future of Hadopi is set to be a topic of hot debate in the run-up to presidential elections next year. Newly-selected Socialist candidate François Hollande has said he would repeal the Hadopi law and introduce new legislation were he to be elected president.

"Hadopi is an ongoing political nightmare for the government and for the majority of Nicolas Sarkozy," Zimmermann added. "The parliamentary debates lasted for two years instead of going quickly. The law was rejected once, then it was put again before the government. So it remains a symbol of a badly voted, very bad law."

Author: Clea Caulcutt, Paris
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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