Three years and millions of euros later, Hadopi has its first conviction. Now what?

France's Hadopi anti-piracy legislation came in 2009, charged with cutting file-sharing and boosting legal alternatives. Four years and millions of euros later, it's now got its first scalp. But does the law, and the authority behind it, have a future?
Written by Valéry Marchive, Contributor

For the first time since its difficult birth in 2009, the work of France's anti-piracy authority Hadopi has resulted in a conviction. Earlier this month, a man known as Alain P was convicted of having failed to effectively secure his home internet connection and will have to pay a fine of no less than €150 as a result. 

That's one of the quirks of the French anti-piracy law, also known as Hadopi: though it's illegal to actually download or share copyrighted material, convicting someone of copyright-infringement solely on the basis of their IP address is regarded as nearly impossible without serious police work -- and definitely not something that could be done based on the simple automated monitoring of P2P networks brought in by the Hadopi legislation.

As a result, French lawmakers have come up with a new offence to tackle file-sharers, but that wouldn't need the same investigation as convicting an individual of illegally downloading music: they instead created the offence of failing to secure your internet access. So, no matter that Alain P's his wife has admitted illegally downloading a song by Rihanna, Alain P has been convicted for the offence.

Pascal Rogard, head of rights-holders group SACD - one of fathers of the Hadopi law – described the first conviction is a success, adding that Alan P, as the name on the household broadband bill, is "responsible for what his children or wife do" over his internet connection. According the Frack Riester, the French UMP party's rapporteur for the Hadopi law, described the conviction as "an accomplishment".

An expensive accomplishment, some would say.  

Right-holders only contribute to the law's upkeep by paying TMG, a service provider which monitors P2P networks on their behalf. Meanwhile, ISPs have to warn those subscribers picked up in TMG's sweeps that their IP addresses have been caught being used for file-sharing, and  they're supposed to get some money back from the French government for doing so --- meaning Hadopi has cost French taxpayers tens of millions of euros since its inception.

Millions of euros for less work

And despite the cost, the work the Hadopi authority was set up to do is being whittled down.

As part of its remit, the Hadopi authority was also supposed to suggest tools that internet users might use to secure their web connections. It has yet to do so, and no serious IT security expert thinks it will happen anytime soon. In fact, the Hadopi authority has decided to stop pursuing that particular one of its objectives claiming it goes "beyond the limits of the [authority's] mission and the means granted to the authority by lawmakers."

To entice youngsters to shun file-sharing in favour of buying music legally, the French lawmakers created a subsidised prepaid card for them to buy music over the web. They planned for it to cost  €25m over 2011 – but two-thirds of that budget hasn't been spent, the cards themselves proved problematic to use and were mothballed earlier this month.

An uncertain future

Today, the future of Hadopi looks mainly like a question mark. Back in July 2009, Aurélie Filippetti would express harsh criticism against Hadopi, claiming it was some kind of a "legal absurdity". More than two years later, she's minister of culture and, according to her, Hadopi should now focus on the development of the legal market and the fight against commercial counterfeiting.

In August, the French government tasked Pierre Lescure, former CEO of the French broadcast group Canal+, to find ways to fight commercial counterfeiting and to protect French cultural works, including music, at the digital age. Though not directly related to Hadopi, Lescure's mission definitely relates to one of its goals: bolstering legal means of accessing digital cultural materials. By the end of September, Lescure himself was criticising the concept of a offence based failing to secure your internet access.

New missions

Despite a lower budget for 2013 of  €9m, Hadopi plans to warn more internet users they're thought to be file-sharers, sending out up to 1.1m emails and letters. Elsewhere, Filippetti is still expecting proposals from Lescure on how to fight the illegal downloading and streaming of copyrighted video - which seems to be on the rise but currently remains outside of the reach of Hadopi.

Recently, the Hadopi authority told French publication PCInpact that it's working on ways to improve the search engines ranking of the legal online stores and to find ways to have them remove links to websites that illegally link to copyrighted materials.

Hadopi has also devised a label "PUR" which it gives as a stamp of approval to some legal online music stores. The authority claims that it has lead to a 20 percent increase in the traffic for those store, but no details on whether traffic translates into sales.

In the meantime, Apple and Amazon's online digital music platforms continue to gather momentum, proving that that a convenient and economical option is far more efficient in encouraging people to buy digital music legally than laws that struggle to cope with the fast pace of technology.

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