Gallic artists blast piracy prosecution

Mag collects 24,000 signatures on petition

PARIS — Only in France would artists support people who rip them off.

France’s first prosecutions for the illegal downloading of music have sparked a backlash against the antipiracy efforts — and anger at the music majors.

Pop stars, politicians and media figures signed a petition, launched by left-wing weekly mag Le Nouvel Observateur, opposing legal action against Internet pirates.

On its Web site Monday, the mag claimed it had amassed 24,000 signatures, including those of “Amelie” composer Yann Tiersen and former culture minister Jack Lang.

Petition says the signatories have all downloaded music, “like at least 8 million French people,” and calls for a “halt to these absurd prosecutions.”

It goes on to call for public debate over a response to the piracy problem “that is adapted to this day and age.”

Backlash has been fanned by the first punitive fine, against 28-year-old Internet pirate Alain Oddoz, a teacher whose modest financial means, the magazine pointed out, contrasted with the wealth of the record industry.

A court gave him a suspended fine of $3,826 and ordered him to pay $13,000 compensation for downloading 10,000 titles. The SACEM music royalties org had asked the court to fine him $36,000.

“I do not have any idea how to pay — it is a sum I do not have,” Oddoz was quoted as saying.

The spat is an embarrassment for France’s right-wing government and culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, who has promised France will lead international efforts to combat Internet piracy.

Oddoz was nabbed thanks to legislation that makes prosecuting offenders easier. French police are investigating an additional 500 cases of piracy, with legal proceedings under way in 50 instances.

A Culture Ministry spokesman called the petition dangerous, saying, “Our main concern is the defense of artists and artistic creation.”