France gets tough on Net pirates

Paris court fines Google for hosting 'Bush' doc

PARIS — Just months after French president Nicholas Sarkozy announced measures forcing Internet service providers to ban pic pirates, a Paris court has fined Google e150,000 ($222,450) for merely hosting a film.

Flach Film, which produced William Karel’s 2004 docu “The World According to Bush,” filed a lawsuit in November 2006, after the pic appeared on Google Video France uncut and free of charge.

According to Flach’s Jean-Francois Lepetit, Google only complied with the order to remove it in December 2007.

The sentence, served Feb. 20, is being celebrated as a step forward by French producers’ association APC.

Other European governments — most notably the U.K.’s — are tracking Sarkozy’s ISP initiative, due to pass parliament later this year.

“France boasts vigorous governmental antipiracy involvement and real players in the film sector, which are really concerned about the issue,” says Chris Marcich, managing director, MPA Europe.

“Antipiracy has seen two activity hubs, both of which have failed to deliver any meaningful reduction: going after individuals, the core strategy of the RIAA in the U.S.; or go after the sites themselves,” says Screen Digest analyst Dan Cryan.

“Of late, instead of going for the user or service, the plan is to go for the pipe — Internet service providers — which connect the two,” he adds.

Sarkozy’s ISP protocol envisages a three-strikes-and-out ban on pic pirates. It’s not clear how Sarkozy will stop offenders signing up with another ISP.

But if anything will stem French online piracy, it’s likely to be consumer Internet trends, not law enforcement.

User-generated sites, which had been slower to take off in France than the U.K. or the U.S., are now booming, giving users more legitimate and legal choices.

According to research company Gfk, 900,000 French households illegally downloaded “cultural products” — movies, TV and music — in 2007, down 37% from 2006.

A recent EU study suggested the number of European VOD sites increased 82% in 2007 to 258 services, powered by TV shows’ availability on both free and paid nets.

While figures are not readily available, experiments with prior-to-open-air broadcast TV such as “Lost” are encouraging, some say.

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