France’s Hadopi Sends First Cases for Prosecution
Hadopi, France’s agency responsible for protecting intellectual property rights on the Internet, has sent its first load of cases of Internet users who allegedly downloaded films and music illegally for prosecution.
Globally, the music industry has been advocating for stricter laws regarding illegal downloading of music on the Internet. In response to the international concern over rampant copyright infringement via the Internet, France proposed more rigorous legislation to protect against and to punish these infringers. After a number of drafts, the legislation backed by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy implements a “three strikes” law. Under the law, infringers are sent a warning e-mail, then a letter via registered mail, and then if the problem still persists their Internet connection is cut off for a period of time. The legislation was passed into law in May 2009. The three strikes law is known as Haute Autorité pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des Droits sur Internet, though it is commonly referred to by the acronym Hadopi. Hadopi is the also the name of the state agency that enforces the law.
The agency, just shy of three years old now, has sent warning emails to over 800,000 users and over 68,000 letters to users for their second strike. Hadopi has placed 165 infringers under investigation in the third phase. In this last phase, courts are allowed to impose fines of €1,500, which is about $2,000.
Supporters of Hadopi say that the system is working, as evidenced by the low number of third-stage offenders. Supporters also point to a study by Wellesley College and Carnegie Mellon University that indicated that Internet users’ awareness of Hadopi led to about a 25% increase in sales of iTunes songs and albums among those aware of and likely to be affected by Hadopi, in comparison to other groups. The study suggests that users who were aware of the consequences of illegal downloading purchased more music via legal downloads such as the Apple iTunes Music Store.
Critics of the Hadopi law claim that the law directly violates freedom of expression. They are outraged that third-stage infringers would have their Internet cut off, and argue that that punishment is disproportionate to the crime of copyright infringement. Critics further suggest that the statistics have been manipulated to signify that the Hadopi law is stopping users from illegally downloading music and films.
Recently, Hadopi sent its first third strike cases to the French prosecution office. The list of alleged infringers was sent to the public prosecutors office, where the prosecutors will decide whether they will bring legal action against the users.
In another chapter in the fight against illegally downloading music, the French government has employed a harsh consequence against repeat offenders. Only time will tell if this system will actually stop copyright infringement from illegal downloading, but France will be keeping a close eye on this first round of cases.