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The Hollande government in France seems unable to decide on a policy position for copyright. Not long ago, it shunted the Hadopi authority into a siding, now it is calling other Member States aboard for new Europe-wide anti-piracy measures.

In a new position paper, issued at the European Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels this week, the French government has called for a new European plan to address copyright infringement and counterfeits. Using rights-holder language, it says it wants to 're-launch of the fight against piracy' in Europe, and it puts forward possible avenues for the EU to explore. Most concerning, is its proposal to

promote the development of agreements between the Internet companies and the rights-holders. The paper does not elaborate on this proposal. However, 'voluntary agreements' in this context are highly problematic.

Voluntary agreements are only 'voluntary' because they are not enshrined in legislation. However, they are only likely to happen with the backing of the government, and this is root owhy there are so problematic.

Under European law, any such measures that are intended to restict access to the Internet, must respect fundamental rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. That means, the rights to freedom of expression and the hotly contested - currently - right to privacy. There is also the oft-forgotten right to due process.

These rights must be respected by the firms being asked to implement the so-called voluntary measures, and therein lies the first difficulty.

For example, the right to due process implies a court procedure, even if only a cut-down version such as the one used in France's Hadopi law. Commercial firms implementing punishment measures against individuals would be in breach of this right. The outcome may well be that the measures will be limited to the sending of notices only, but even then, the measures need to be carefully designed to avoid falling foul of this right.

In other words, it is not appropriate for commercial businesses to be asked to take action against individuals, on behalf of another business, without the State ensuring that due process is followed.

Voluntary agreements in this context, are entered into by businesses from two different industries, with conflicting financial interests. They must be formulated in a way that will not fall foul of the shareholder's interests, which means that costs and liabilities must be carefully negotiated. That is a not insignificant difficulty that is very often overlooked. It means that the negotiations will be lengthy and complex, and the ultimate outcome may be unsatisfactory for both sides.

And, as the Hadopi experiment has shown, the State-managed route is riddled with problems too and has thus far not proved to have the effect that was sought. ( See Hadopi turns three - bon anniversaire? )

A separate proposal from the French government is to regulate platforms and applications. Once again, the text is short on detail. Given the French attempt to regulate some of Google's activities, it's possible that is what it has in mind. The risk is that 'regulation of platforms' could become a private policing of copyright.

It does seem as though the Hollande government is becoming a little schizoid in its policy for online copyright enforcement. However, with EU's overriding priorities now shifting towards privacy regulation and controlling espionnage against its own governments, the best hope for these French copyright proposals is that they simply are buried.

To read more about copyright enforcement (so-called anti-piracy) measures, the Internet and fundamental rights, please see my latest book A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms

This is an original article from Iptegrity.com and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, France wants to relaunch the EU fight against piracy in Iptegrity.com, 25 October 2013. Commercial users - please contact me.


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor: online safety, technology and human rights. In April 2024, I was appointed as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on online safety and empowerment of content creators and users. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.  

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