Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

'Three-strikes' law for net users

By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click, Paris

French internet users persisting in illicit downloading of music and films could have the plug pulled on their internet if a controversial new law is approved.

Marc Guez, managing director of France's Society of Phonographic Producers (SCPP)
Marc Guez from SCPP said users must pay for what they consume

Under plans by the French government, illegal downloaders would be barred from broadband access by their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) after three warnings.

The three-strikes law means alleged wrongdoers will first get a warning e-mail, then a letter through the post, followed by their connection being cut off for up to a year.

A proposed state agency would gather the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of people involved in illegal file-sharing.

Marc Guez, managing director of France's Society of Phonographic Producers (SCPP), said record companies are losing millions in profits to piracy.

He said the internet is "killing all of the creative industries little by little" and that governments must take action against piracy.

He expects other industries to follow in the steps of record companies.

"We are the first ones, but the movie industry is going to come and the gaming industry is going to follow, and the software industry and so on," he added.

Actual offenders

However, the scheme has faced opposition from civil liberty groups concerned about the invasion of privacy.

Website of Creative Freedom Foundation (New Zealand)
Websites protested against a new copyright law in New Zealand

Other critics pointed out that IP addresses are not necessarily pinned to one individual, so it could be difficult to find the actual offenders.

For instance, anyone taking their laptop out for a stroll could potentially piggy-back on someone else's unlocked wireless connection.

If the net intruder then downloaded content illegally, it would be the service's subscriber who would receive a letter of warning.

Despite these concerns, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry is continuing to lobby governments to get strict laws enacted across the world.

If the French scheme is given the go ahead in early April and adopted successfully, it could offer a potential model for other countries.

New Zealand is now considering whether to push ahead with a new tougher copyright law, despite protests from activists across the internet.

Sweden considered with idea but decided not to cut off their citizens' internet, and Germany's justice minister branded the punishment "unreasonable".

Innovative models

The debate in France has raised the question of how to reward creativity and how music and digital content should be distributed.

Jamendo website
This music site offers free and legal songs, plus an innovative model

One website came up with an innovative business plan by offering free music for private use, and charging those who stand to make money from it.

The founder of, Sylvain Zimmer, believes that punishing music lovers is not the way forward.

"We think we will create more value and more innovative things if we reward the biggest fans of the artists," he said.

He added that the solution is "innovation and trying to come up with new models instead of trying to enforce the old one with law".

But Mr Guez from SCPP disagrees - he believes in the "pay for what you consume" business model already in use.

"It is a very simple model, very old, and it works," he said.

The alternative of a flat monthly rate for downloads as part of a broadband subscription package is not out of the question for the industry - but only if it is backed up with strong piracy law.

"We want to keep the same habits of those downloading illegally and move them to sites where they can download legally from legal sites," said Mr Guez from SCPP.

But some doubt whether the record industry would ever relinquish the enormous control they have over who and what songs become big hits.

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