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Cablegate: MPAA, RIAA, BSA weighed in on France’s Internet disconnection law

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According to a US diplomatic cable given to secrets outlet WikiLeaks, US business interests played a role in the passage of a French law that created Internet user blacklists, ostensibly to be used against people who access copyrighted content online.

The “Creation and Internet law,” which became law in Sept. 2009, was initially set-back for months by the theatrics of 15 French socialist lawmakers, an April, 2009 US State Department communique details.

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Noting the vote was not very well attended as most members assumed it would pass, the socialists hid in a broom closet near the entrance of parliament. Since there were no members near the chamber entrance, that meant the vote was to proceed with them in absentia, but at the last moment they emerged from the closet and charged into parliament to cast a bloc of ‘no’ votes, effectively killing the bill by a ballot of 21-15.

That lawmakers hid in a closet to stifle the French Internet law went unreported at the time.

After reintroduction, the bill passed in September.

The secret US cable described US business groups from the movies and music industries as keenly interested in the bill’s passage.

“Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) President Robert Pisano told the Charge on March 20 that the graduated response law is ‘very important’ to the fight against online piracy, and to MPAA,” the US embassy in Paris noted. “The Recording Industry of America has expressed similar sentiments.”

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They added that the Business Software Alliance (BSA) lobbied against a key safeguard in the French bill that would help protect Internet users from spyware and other malicious software. The BSA is a collection of the biggest names in tech, from Apple to Cisco, HP, Intel, IBM, Microsoft and numerous others.

The groups objected to a requirement that they provide French authorities with the source code for whatever software they’ve employed to foil copyright violators. The measure was devised after a 2005 scandal over a rootkit distributed by Sony on audio CDs, that would install software on users’ computers that enabled usage monitoring.

French lawmakers had “no appetite” for the BSA’s proposal and let their amendment languish in committee.

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The law created an Internet regulatory body modeled after the country’s financial markets watchdog, empowering the “HADOPI” (a French acronym meaning the “High Authority of Diffusion of the Art Works and Protection of the Rights on the Internet”) to create user blacklists and impose penalties on Internet service providers (ISPs) who allow banned users to access data services.

It also created a three-strikes program wherein users could be disconnected from the Internet for up to a year on their third time getting caught violating copyrights. It also mandated that ISPs retain a year’s worth of each user’s online history, made available to the government on-demand.

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Users caught downloading copyrighted data first receive an email from their service provider warning against that activity. A second warning comes in the form of a mailed letter from HADOPI. Final enforcement is outright disconnection.

The Internet, remade

The right of corporations and governments to disconnect users from the Internet has also been discussed by the European Union amid debates on its telecom reforms, the US cable noted. The United States, while it does not have a similar law governing Internet access, has been cited in recent months as striving to bring its policies in-line with China and Europe, using Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to issue domain takedowns for sites they accuse of violating copyright laws.

Private corporations were also seen as acting on the US government’s behalf in their censorship of WikiLeaks, with PayPal, Bank of America, MasterCard, Visa and Amazon.com ending all business ties with the site after US officials said they were investigating potential espionage or conspiracy charges against founder Julian Assange.

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The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is also considering important Internet regulations that critics say could fundamentally change how the Internet is managed, experienced and paid for. The commission’s so-called “Net Neutrality” rules, due to be voted on Tuesday afternoon, could permit the creation of super-tiers of prioritized traffic and allow bandwidth rationing, placing caps on the amount of information users can download and implementing overage fees similar to voice minutes on mobile phone networks.

The US Senate was also expected to take up debate on the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act,” which would give authorities even more leeway to order websites taken off the Internet’s central domain name registry.

Even the United Kingdom was jumping onboard, tightening their network restrictions to the point or ordering ISPs to build a censorship infrastructure that blocks access to pornography, forcing users to go through another step to opt-in for adult content and identify themselves — as opposed to simply declaring they are old enough under the law.

The United Nations is also considering a new Internet Governance Forum made up of member states only, excluding representatives from civil society and private industry in vital discussions on how to police the global Internet.

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The first round of French copyright enforcement began in late Sept. and was said to have started scooping up 10,000 Internet protocol addresses per day, with the aim of detecting over 150,000 copyright violations per day as the efforts progressed.


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