France has certainly upped the ante in the battle against pirated copyrighted material. A new law bans internet access for violators. Apparently, after your third violation (just warnings for the first two), a third-party agency intervenes between the violator and the internet access provider, and, as a punishment, you lose internet access for up to a year. The best part – is you’re still required to pay for that internet non-access.
Although I could never, ever, see this happen in the United States, it’s an interesting idea. With that being said, I have a few (okay, many) issues with this “solution.” Aside from the seemingly impossible task of enforcing this law – I think we’re talking millions, not thousands of violators – is this the right solution? The government would be sticking its thumb in a cracked dam and hoping that no other leaks sprout. This law would address the problem, but at what cost? What other leaks would start to sprout?
I have a First Amendment issue with limiting communication. After all, are not email, web programs (Facebook, Twitter), blogging, etc., valuable means to communicate? Isn’t open communication something we cherish in America? It’s not like you didn’t pay your cell phone bill, so they’re shutting off your phone. They’re shutting off your cell phone because you uploaded a copyrighted picture somebody sent to you.
I also have a problem with the warning system. France essentially permits two illegal downloads (or, to be precise, getting caught for two illegal downloads), but draws a line in the sand over the third violation. Sure, line drawing is necessary for all laws, but why not incorporate a fine or something for the first two violations if you’re serious about enforcement? When you give violators slack, they’ll take it.
There is also an over-broadness issue if the internet access is cut off for the entire household. Say the violator is your fourteen-year-old son and the family shares one computer. Do we punish minors? Moreover, if he violates the rule three times, is the entire family stuck? Say mom needs the computer for a work project or daughter needs to research for homework? You’re punishing an entire household for one person’s crime. This isn’t exactly the American way. If the internet access is only cut off from one user, you’re just egging on the violator to hop on the net under a sibling’s or parent’s login. Oh, and what if someone steals or borrows or whatever your computer and violates the law? Once you get your computer back (or even if you have to buy a new one) you might have to sit out an entire year from having internet access.
Finally, there are so many loopholes in this law that it’s practically impotent. Why not just burn a cd of copyrighted material instead of downloading it? Why not watch the copyrighted material on someone’s computer who is only at strike 1 or hasn’t gotten caught yet? Why not access copyrighted material on an unblocked public computer (i.e. library, public school, etc. that does not have a firewall)? Exactly how much invasion of privacy are we willing to approach to accurately enforce this?
While I certainly appreciate that there is a problem, I just don’t see how the ends justify the means here. When America wanted to cut off the (free) Napsters of the world, Congress went after (surprise!) the (free) Napsters of the world. Spend resources on the sources flooding all of the copyrighted material onto the internet so you don’t need to worry about setting up a shotty dam.