Three Strikes and You’re Offline

400px-baseball_swingFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy recently noted that the Internet is not a lawless zone.  On that, many of us agree.  But then he went a step too far, trumpeting a law that would cut off Internet access to people who repeatedly download copyrighted content  illegally.  The law would have set up a “three-strike” system in which music labels and movie studios would monitor file-sharing web sites to identify computers that have illegally downloaded copyrighted content and then report suspected pirates to a government committee, which in turn would review cases and require ISPs to identify offenders.   

Not surprisingly, the French Constitutional Council struck down the provision of the law that would cut off Internet access to repeated copyright offenders, finding it incompatible with the French Constitution and its due process protections.  The Council ruled that the law will be enacted without the “three-strike” component.  Instead, the government agency can only send out mail and email warnings to suspected pirates.  If the agency wants to further sanction a suspected pirate, it would have to go to court. 

The decision appears to be a narrow one, leaving open the possibility of Internet banning upon judicial review.  On the one hand, this is a wise move given the likelihood that a computer’s involvement in mischief was truly the doings of a neighbor using its wireless router.  Judicial review would address that scenario.  On the other hand, it leaves open the troubling possibility of banning Internet use due to copyright violations.  The protection of artistic creation can surely be accomplished by less extreme measures, i.e., ones that do not cut off a copyright offender’s exercise of basic freedoms in this networked age, from her right to express ideas, create artistic content, associate with religious groups, and make a living.

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1 Response

  1. Jack S. says:

    this law flew in the face of all principles of due process (well that doesn’t exist here, but a relative of it does) so it was pretty obvious that certain parts would be eviscerated.

    On a practical level even the judges have come out and stated that it’s a non-starter as the training and hiring requirements necessary to handle all of the disputes would be astronomical (read about 18,000 lawsuits per year).

    Finally add on top of that the amount of websites that discuss how to circumvent detection using todays technology for a law that won’t go into effect until 2011.

    This law was unfortunately used to appease a small part of the electorate and certain specific special interest groups.