French ISPs sign charter to stop illegal filesharing

French Internet service providers (ISPs) will collaborate with the music industry to send automatic warnings to any of their subscribers seen illegally sharing copyright-protected files online, as part of an overall move to stamp out online piracy.

The move is one of several contained in a charter for the development of online music distribution in France signed Wednesday by three French ministers and a number of Internet service providers, music artists and representatives of the music industry.

In addition to sending out the warnings, the ISPs agreed to enforce termination clauses in contracts if subscribers are caught illegally downloading copyrighted materials.

In return for this help in cracking down on pirates, the music rights-holders signatories have agreed to make their entire catalog of digitized works available through all online stores, and music distributors have agreed to double the number of titles available for download to 600,000 by the end of the year.

A committee of technical experts will be set up to conduct tests to see whether it is possible to selectively block or filter filesharing services at the request of individual Internet users. The experts will investigate whether this can be done economically and without affecting the overall quality of service. Until the experiments are complete on Oct. 1, the music industry has agreed not to call for filtering of filesharing traffic in any legal actions it may bring.

The charter was signed by representatives from government, the music industry and French ISPs. On the government side, signatories included Nicolas Sarkozy, minister of the economy, finance and industry; Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, minister of culture and communication and Patrick Devedjian, minister of industry. The music industry was represented by the heads of twelve music industry organizations including the National Union of Phonographic Publishers (SNEP), the French Union of Independent Phonographic Producers (UPFI) and the National Union of Authors and Composers (UNAC), while the executives of six of the largest ISPs in France also signed the charter.

Some French Internet users are unhappy about the charter.

The Ligue Odebi, a coalition of broadband users, accused the industry of racketeering. French computer users already pay a tax on blank media such as cassettes or CD-Rs, intended to compensate artists when their works are privately copied. Forcing Internet users to pay royalties for blank CD-Rs and then, through the blocking of peer-to-peer filesharing networks or through legal intimidation, to pay again for to download music to burn on to the discs, amounts to a racket, the Ligue said in a statement.

Even some artists are against the charter: the Company for the Collection and Distribution of Rights for Music and Dance Artists (SPEDIDAM) said Wednesday it has reservations about the plans to combat illegal filesharing. The rights collection agency has campaigned against the idea since the government first proposed it, and in May led a coalition of 12 groups representing artists, consumers, families and educators which called on the government to promote new ways of downloading and paying for music, rather than simply blocking peer-to-peer networks.

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