Different measures taken in international realm

MADRID — On July 20, French President Nicolas Sarkozy faces one of the toughest tests of his career — reintroducing an antipiracy law to the country’s National Assembly.

It’s a mark of the challenges plaguing Europe’s antipiracy drive that Gaul’s Constitutional Court declawed Sarkozy’s vaunted Creation and Internet Law on June 10, nixing the proposed government agency’s power to cut repeat offenders’ Web access.

Sarkozy’s newest scheme — accelerated court convictions and $2,100 fines — will pour fuel on fire, with even some industryites thinking the measure now goes too far.

Director-producer Luc Besson describes Sarkozy’s original three-strikes-and-out scheme, under which Internet access would have been denied to anyone caught illegally downloading content three times, as “educational.”

“It’s being replaced by a speeding ticket-style fines system,” he says, adding that many young people he meets don’t know unauthorized downloads are illegal.

Despite polemics, Europe has at least begun to crack down on online pirates more aggressively.

“A sense has taken hold in a number of countries — the U.K., France, Spain and Italy — that something needs to be done about Internet piracy,” says Chris Marcich, the Motion Picture Assn.’s prexy and managing director of Euro operations.

Early results, however, are mixed.

In Spain, the government’s appointment of outspoken piracy critic Angeles Gonzalez Sinde as culture minister in April provoked howls of protest in a country where piracy’s become hip.

According to a recent study by market research company The Cocktail Analysis, 71% of Internet users download largely unauthorized content, with “Lost” accounting for 7% of series choices.

On June 16, the British government published a Digital Britain paper that suggests giving regulator Ofcom legal powers to impose an array of technical restrictions on ISPs that are unable to reduce illegal filesharing.

It stops short of ordering persistent copyright infringers to be disconnected, but does suggest port blocking, protocol blocking, URL and IP address blocking, bandwidth capping, bandwidth shaping and filtering of specific content as sanctions.

More immediately, it envisages rights holders reporting broadband users they detect illegally filesharing to their ISP. Providers will then be obliged to notify those users that their conduct is illegal.

That, however, may not be enough.

“Notification may have some effect on reducing illegal traffic, but the real test is increased buying. So far, there’s no real evidence of this,” says Alice Enders at Enders Analysis.

In Sweden, the government passed a law on April 1 allowing rights holders to identify and sue online pirates.

Days later, the founders of Pirate Bay, one of the world’s biggest filesharing sites, were fined $3.8 million and given one-year prison sentences for copyright breach.

Internet piracy in the country reportedly plunged 40% after April. But by June it was back to January levels, according to Cisco Sweden.

However, Svensk Filmindustri, Sweden’s biggest DVD distributor, reports continuing bumper DVD sales. 

“A lot of new young people who disappeared from the rental stores are coming back and signing up as members,” says Tobias Lenner, SF managing director, Sweden.

Meanwhile, championing Pirate Bay, the Pirate Party won 7% of votes in June’s European Parliament elections, becoming Sweden’s third-largest political force.

Anti-piracy options being aired are myriad but “some people will always find a way round any measure,” says Dan Cryan at Screen Digest.

“The question is how difficult it becomes. At what point does it become easier and more convenient for a large majority of users to use a legal system instead? It’s a question of hurdles, not prohibition.”  

As Europe toys with piracy fixes, finding a viable digital alternative has become its Holy Grail.

Digital Britain singles out ad-supported music site Spotify as an alternative. The peer-to-peer streaming music service allows users to listen to tracks as many times as they like for free but they can’t save them unless they buy them.

However, as Enders points out, founder Daniel Ek doesn’t expect profits any time soon.

Emiliano de Pablos in Madrid and Elsa Keslassy in Paris contributed to this report.

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