France to ban illegal downloaders from using the internet under three-strikes rule
So a country that has long led the way in the promotion of the arts and has produced some of the world's most celebrated artists, is now a pioneer in combating internet piracy.
"There is no reason that the internet should be a lawless zone," President Sarkozy told the Cabinet today, as it endorsed the "three-strikes-and-you're-out" scheme, which, from next January, will hit illegal downloaders where it hurts. Under a cross-industry agreement, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must cut off access for up to a year for third-time offenders.
In a classic French approach, the scheme will be enforced by a new £15million-a-year state agency, to be called HADOPI (High authority for copyright protection and dissemination of works on the internet).
The law has strong backing from Mr Sarkozy, who has taken a close interest in artists' rights since marrying Carla Bruni, a folk singer and model. Opposition to the scheme has come, however, from bodies including the state data protection agency, consumer and civil liberties groups and the European Parliament. Big web companies, such as Google and the video-sharing firm Dailymotion, refused to sign up to the 40-member industry accord last November.
Mocking the law yesterday, Libération newspaper gave warning that families could be stripped of their internet and broadband telephone and television if a neighbour's teenager used their wireless router to load his iPod.
Christine Albanel, the Culture Minister, who is responsible for the so-called Creation and Internet law, said that it would replace criminal action with dissuasion. "It takes an essentially preventive and educational approach," she said yesterday. Over the past two years French courts have convicted 300 people for piracy, most of them professionals and none of them minors. The prosecutions have had little impact on the sales of a recording industry in steep decline.