France's anti-piracy watchdog ponders evolution, faces extinction

The French anti-piracy authority Hadopi recently published a report outlining possible measures to fight copyright infringement online that could see the organisation facing an overhaul. Others would rather it disappeared altogether.
Written by Valéry Marchive, Contributor

Since it was set up in 2009, the French anti-piracy authority Hadopi has cost the taxpayer tens of millions of euros without really proving its usefulness. Now, the organisation is pondering its future.

Late last month, Hadopi published a report (PDF) examining possible models the organisation might adopt going forward, and how best fight the growth of illegal streaming and downloading of copyrighted material.

The report suggests in future Hadopi could increasingly rely on the technology companies involved in the process of online content distribution – such as ISPs, search engines, advertising agencies, payment solutions providers, as well as hosting companies – to help tackle piracy. The latter could be asked to implement systems that would automatically remove infringing content by identifying their digital 'watermarks'.

According to the report, rights-holders should still have to keep an eye out for their content being pirated online, however: it would be up to them to notify service providers when their services are being used to illegally distribute copyrighted content. Hadopi would then get involved should the infringing content appear elsewhere on the same platform again.

However, if Hadopi were to notice a service provider's "obvious will" not to comply with requests to remove pirated material, the authority could then publicly name and shame them, the report says. It also outlines the possibility of Hadopi being able to take further measures in future, from asking search engines to remove links to the infringing platform or even asking ISPs to block their users' access to it.

Should any companies refuse to comply with any of those measures, Hadopi should then be allowed to impose fines without the need for court approval for the penalties, the report says. The report also puts forward the idea that site-blocking orders should also be automatically cover mirror sites without the need for any additional court order.

Mireille Imbert-Quaretta, author of the report and president of Hadopi's rights protection committee, has also discussed the idea of the authority mandating "a browser plug-in to perform some filtering" to stop users getting access to copyright-infringing material, or even using a filtering system directly embedded within the operating system.

Hadopi is also thinking of striking those profiting from piracy where it hurts: in the wallet, by ordering online payment processors to make preventive seizures of payments destined for companies that infringe copyright. 

Hadopi's metamorphosis?

This report comes at a time of great uncertainty for Hadopi. As a députée in opposition back in 2009, Aurélie Filippetti slammed Hadopi, labelling it some kind of "legal absurdity".  Nearly four years on, as minister of culture, Filippetti believes Hadopi should now focus on developing legal markets for digital material as well as the fight against commercial counterfeiting.

Others agree that the anti-piracy watchdog should be overhauled. In February, Imbert-Quaretta went as far as to say that Hadopi in its current form "will disappear". However, the government will still "maintain a public authority" that will "be able to act as a mediator, an enabler, and to ensure legal measures are effective," she said in an interview with PC Inpact.

Whether any of the proposals in Hadopi's report – or the predictions of its demise – will come to pass remains to be seen: the report acknowledges that it "doesn't contain any final recommendations but only a number of proposals to be explored". The future of Hadopi is also tied to the conclusions of the work currently being carried out by former Canal+ head Pierre Lescure, tasked by the French government with finding ways to protect the country's digital works such as music and film in the digital age.  Lescure's conclusions, and Hadopi's fate with it, will all be discussed by the French parliament this autumn. 

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