France develops radical anti-piracy strategy

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PARIS -- In an unprecedented show of cooperation, French film and music rights holders inked a radical agreement Friday with Internet service providers aimed at combating illegal downloads.

The agreement, which has the backing of president Nicolas Sarkozy, calls for the instigation of a "three-strikes-and-you're-out" policy which could see persistent pirates deprived of Internet access.

The proposal is part of a 40-page report into ways of fighting online piracy and developing a legal offer of films and music, commissioned jointly by the culture and economy ministries.

The report calls for the setting up of an independent authority which, when notified by rights holders, will send a warning to individuals thought to be engaged in illegal downloading. A second warning would be issued if the infringement continues, and if this is ignored the individual's Internet access could be suspended or terminated.

The authority will also have as-yet unspecified powers over Internet service providers (ISPs) that fail to comply with its injunctions, and will draw up a national directory of Internet users who have had their subscriptions revoked.

"The legislation (putting this in place) will be presented in the first quarter of 2008, to be adopted before summer," said Christine Albanel, the culture minister.

Observers said the agreement would put France at the forefront of the battle against Internet piracy.

Given the strong penetration of broadband and the long delay before titles can appear on DVD, the country is certainly one of the worst affected by on-line movie piracy.

The report was authored by Denis Olivennes, head of Gallic music, book and video retailer FNAC, who after wide consultations succeeded in achieving a consensus between most parties.

In total, around 40 bodies signed the accord, ranging from producers' and rights holders' organizations, ISPs, the main broadcast groups,and exhibition and distribution federations. However, representatives of some web companies, including Google, and video-sharing site Dailymotion declined to sign up.

In terms of developing a legal offer, the cinema industry has agreed to reduce the legally fixed window for online availability of films from the current seven-and-a-half months to six months after theatrical release, bring it into line with the DVD window in France.

For their part, music rights holders have agreed to make French music available for online download without digital rights management protection.

The Society of Producers, Directors and Writers (ARP), one of the signatories, welcomed the accord, saying it constitutes "a genuine kick start for the emergence of a new economy for the film and audiovisual" sectors. Music royalty collection body SACEM, also a signatory, said: "We expect these proposals to contribute more effectively to the fight against piracy, whose first victims are the rights holders."

Some, however, have attacked the proposal for a new Internet policeman as a threat to civil liberties. Consumer association UFC-Que Choisir said the plans were "very harsh, potentially repressive, anti-economic and run counter to the digital age."
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