A proposal from the French Ministry of Culture could hit online music and movie piracy very hard with a very big stick if it goes ahead. In addition to the existing law, introduced only last year, which made unauthorised file-sharing a criminal offence carrying a 30,000 Euro fine and up to six months in prison, the new proposals seek to kick pirates off the Internet altogether.
Along with other measures such as the watermarking of digital content, the Ministry of Culture plans include the controversial concepts of monitoring and tracking the movement of those watermarked files and the people who move them. A registry would be created to log those users accused of piracy by the copyright holders, and following official investigation a three strikes and you are out system will issues two warnings and finally forced termination of the ISP contract.
Unsurprisingly, the government plans have been warmly welcomed by the French media industry which is keen to implement the watermarking system. I understand that agreements have already been signed with TV channels, film makers and ISPs to this effect. For its part, the French government will set up a new agency to monitor Internet traffic and deal with the complaints process. French president Nicolas Sarkozy said of the deal "We run the risk of witnessing a genuine destruction of culture" adding "The Internet must not become a high-tech Far West, a lawless zone where outlaws can pillage works with abandon or, worse, trade in them in total impunity.
Although there has been some expected backlash from consumer rights groups which suggest a digital divide will be created at exactly the same time as the government is putting more citizen services online, it seems doubtful that any determined pirate would be unable to route around the ISP blacklist. Apart from anything else, there is always the Internet café approach to connectivity after all. What is of more concern, of course, is the potential conflict within French law. In particular the constitutional protection of innocence until proved guilty, when that decision will rest with a bureaucratic government department rather than a court of law. One open source computing pressure group in France has even gone so far as to suggest the proposals will, in effect, create a private Internet police force.
That, perhaps, is an accusation too far considering that it will be an independent authority supervised by a judge that will decide if users lose their Internet access...