Netcos accused of abetting pic pirates

AOL France was among a handful of Gallic companies hauled before a Paris court Wednesday on piracy-related charges by the makers of hit film “Les Choristes.”

The companies, including telco Neuf Telecom and the SNCF national railway company, are accused of aiding and abetting Internet piracy by carrying banner advertisements on their Web sites that offer links to peer-to-peer networks.

“Les Choristes” was available for illegal download 15 days after its French release. Movie, set in a reform school, nonetheless went on to notch more than 8 million admissions in France, making it the country’s top-grossing film of 2004.

At a press conference held earlier this week by “Les Choristes” producer Jacques Perrin, helmer Christophe Barratier said he wasn’t seeking financial compensation but rather “a symbolic gesture that will serve as an example.”

If a judgment comes back in his favor, the director said he would ask for a court order requiring the companies to take out ads in the press and on the Internet publicizing the verdict.

French court will rule on the piracy case “in a few weeks.”

Jean Francois Lepetit, head of the Chambre Syndicale des Producteurs de Films producers’ union, said Tuesday: “For Internet users it is reassuring to see the names of prestigious brands on sites that permit films to be downloaded for free. We want to bring an end to these practices.”

The court case comes in the middle of a politically embarrassing stalemate in the Gallic fight against piracy.

French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres has promised France will lead the way in battling Internet theft. But in December, a long-awaited bill on intellectual copyright that would have made it easier to bring pirates to justice in France was the subject of surprise 11th-hour amendments in favor of legalizing downloading.

Music and film industry bodies have loudly protested against the proposed creation of a “global license,” which would allow Internet users to download anything they want for a fixed monthly fee.

But Gallic consumer and civil liberties orgs, supported by a significant number of politicians, are equally opposed to the idea that Internet users could be spied on in order to catch pirates.

Gallic helmer Bertrand Tavernier weighed in on the debate earlier this week via a sharply worded open letter canceling his subscription to the French consumer-protection magazine Que Choisir, which supports the creation of a global license.

“By your maneuvers, by your calamitous decisions, you are torpedoing my profession, my livelihood,” the helmer wrote.

The French Culture Ministry has the seemingly impossible task of drafting a new bill to be sent to parliament, probably in March.

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