France's digital economy bill angers net users

French internet users and ISPs are mounting a last-ditch protest against a piece of legislation, entitled A Bill to Promote...

French internet users and ISPs 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 yesterday.

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

ISPs are unwilling to take on responsibility for policing French internet users. Such a measure would be the first taken by a democratic state, according to the Association of French Internet Access and Service Providers (AFA), which wrote in an open letter to French deputies.

Other countries that had considered internet censorship, such as Canada and Australia, had rejected it, they said. The letter, signed by the chairmen of 10 of France's largest ISPs, 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.

Internet 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 Odebi, an association of broadband internet users. The bill's proposals to block certain types of information can sidestepped as easily as the Germans sidestepped the supposedly impregneable Maginot Line by invading France through Belgium, and will prove devastating, costly and ineffective.

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 do not 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, has threatened to call a complete boycott of all music products, online and traditional, if the law is passed.

Peter Sayer writes for IDG News Service

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