There is a deliciously ironic, pathetically sad and deeply frightening story coming out of France this week.
On January 1st France’s new (and controversial law) Haute Autorité pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des Droits sur Internet otherwise known by its abbreviation – Hadopi – came into effect. The law makes it illegal to download copyright protected works and uses a “three-strikes” system of enforcement. The first two times an individual illegally downloads copyrighted content (knowingly or unknowingly) they receive a warning. Upon the third infraction the entire household has its internet access permanently cut off and is added to a blacklist. To restore internet access the households’ computers must be outfitted with special monitoring software which tracks everything the computer does and every website it visits.
Over at FontFeed, Yves Peters chronicles how the French Agency designated with enforcing the legislation, also named Hadopi, illegally used a copyrighted font, without the permission of its owner, in their logo design. Worse, once caught the organization tried to cover up this fact by lying to the public. I can imagine that fonts and internet law are probably not your thing, but the story really is worth reading (and is beautifully told).
But as sad, funny and ironic as the story is, it is deeply scary. Hadopi, which is intended to prevent the illegal downloading of copyrighted materials, couldn’t even launch without (innocently or not) breaking the law. They however, are above the law. There will be no repercussions for the organization and no threat that its internet access will be cut off.
The story for French internet users will, however, be quite different. Over the next few months I wouldn’t be surprised if tens, or even hundreds of thousands of French citizens (or their children, or someone else in their home) inadvertently download copyrighted material illegally and, in order to continue to have access to the internet, will be forced to acquiesce to allowing the French Government to monitor everything they do on their computer. In short, Hadopi will functionally become a system of mass surveillance – a tool to enable the French government to monitor the online activities of more and more of its citizens. Indeed, it is conceivable that after a few years a significant number and possibly even a majority of French computers could be monitored. Forget Google. In France, the government is the Big Brother you need to worry about.
Internet users in other countries should also be concerned. “Three Strikes” provisions likes those adopted by France have allegedly been discussed during the negotiations of ACTA, an international anti-counterfeiting treaty that is being secretly negotiated between a number of developed countries.
Suddenly copyright becomes a vehicle to justify the governments right to know everything you do online. To ensure some of your online activities don’t violate copyright online, all online activities will need to be monitored. France, and possibly your country soon too, will thus transform the internet, the greatest single vehicle for free thought and expression, into a giant wiretap.
(Oh, and just in case you thought the French already didn’t understand the internet, it gets worse. Read this story from the economist. How one country can be so backward is hard to imagine).