France’s digital economy bill annoys Net users

Net users and Internet service providers in France are mounting a last-ditch protest against a piece of legislation entitled A Bill to Promote Confidence in the Digital Economy, which entered its final reading in the French national assembly Thursday.

Among other things, it will oblige service providers to filter Net traffic for illegal content, with criminal sanctions for companies that fail to block pedophile images, material excusing crimes against humanity and incitement to racial hatred.

Internet access providers are unwilling to take on responsibility for policing French Net users. Such a measure would be the first taken by a democratic state, the Association of French Internet Access and Service Providers (AFA) wrote in an open letter to French deputies on Friday. Other countries that had considered Net censorship, such as Canada and Australia, had rejected it, they said. The letter, signed by the chairmen of ten of France’s largest Internet access providers, added that filtering technology is just as likely to block legal content as illegal content, and asked the deputies to reject this part of the bill. Service providers are not the only ones against the proposed legislation: users are also up in arms.

The bill’s proposal to oblige access providers to filter Internet content entering the country is like a “digital Maginot Line”, according to an association of broadband Internet users, Odebi (pronounced like the French words for broadband). The Maginot Line was a supposedly impregnable fortification along France’s border with Germany, designed to prevent an invasion. The Germans outflanked it by invading through Belgium, as its common border with France was not fortified. The bill’s proposals to block certain types of information can just as easily be sidestepped, and will prove devastating, costly and ineffective, Odebi said in an open letter to deputies on Dec. 17.

The wide-ranging bill is the translation into French law of the European Union directive on electronic commerce. Other parts of it make access providers responsible for preventing their customers from illegally downloading or sharing intellectual property, such as music, to which they don’t own the rights.

If record companies feel they are losing money to online music trading, they have only themselves to blame, according to the AFA. For its part, the association says its members support legal music downloading, as the presence of legal online music stores on their portals shows, and that it should not fall to them to police a law that only the record industry wants.

Odebi, for its part, threatened Tuesday to call a complete boycott of all music products, online and traditional, if the law is passed.

Deputies were up until 1 a.m. Central European time (CET) Thursday debating the bill, and then had to rush back to the national assembly at 9.30 a.m. (CET) to finish the job. The final vote will take place in a late session beginning at 9.30 p.m. (CET) Thursday.

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