France Tracks Down 18 Million File-Sharers

Starting October last year French Internet users have been receiving letters as part of the three-strikes system built-in to the controversial Hadopi anti-piracy legislation. This week the agency responsible for the warnings gave out details on the scope of the operation. In the last 9 months 18 Million file-sharers were tracked, but due to limited capacity 'only' 470,000 warnings were sent out to first-time offenders.

Under France’s new Hadopi law, alleged copyright infringers will be hunted down systematically with the ultimate goal of decreasing piracy. Alleged offenders are identified by their Internet providers and will be reported to a judge once they have received three warnings.

The judge will then review the case and hand down any one of a range of penalties, from fines through to disconnecting the Internet connection of the infringer.

This week the Hadopi office for the first time released official data on the massive anti-piracy effort. The scope of the operation is mind-boggling, but whether it will result in the desired outcome is yet to be seen.

Despite millions of file-sharers being tracked, France has yet to witness its first disconnection.

The Hadopi agency revealed that since October last year the IP-addresses of 18 Million file-sharers were reported by their ‘hacked‘ tracking partner Trident Media Guard. Of this massive list a randomly selected sample of one million IP-addresses was sent to the Internet providers to obtain further information on the subscribers, and 900,000 identities were returned.

This mass discovery process resulted in 470,000 first warning emails, which equals little over 50,000 per month. The number of people who received a second warning is currently stuck at 20,000 and only 10 Internet subscribers received a third warning.

According to the Hadopi agency these 10 cases are currently being investigated by a judge. These alleged offenders risk a fine of 1500 euros and could lose their Internet connection temporarily. Thus far, however, no French file-sharers have been disconnected.

As the results of France’s controversial three-strikes anti-piracy law are revealed, many people doubt whether the costs involved with the massive operation are justified.

Last month a report from the UN’s Human Rights Council labeled Internet access a human right, arguing that Hadopi is a disproportionate law that should be repealed. This assessment was supported by Reporters Without Borders recently.

“Aside from its practical omissions and shortcomings, the Hadopi law directly violates the principles of the defence of free expression by making it possible to disconnect people from the Internet. Its adoption was one of Reporters Without Borders’ reasons for adding France to the list of ‘countries under surveillance’ in its latest ‘Enemies of the Internet’ report,” the organization writes.

In addition to the human rights issues it is also highly questionable how significant the claimed deterrent effect of the disconnection threat is.

A recent survey by ZDNet.fr found that just 4% of file-sharers polled said they have stopped sourcing music from illegal services for fear of detection. Instead, many BitTorrent users simply turn to proxies and VPNs to conceal their identities.

Thus far, however, the French Government is determined to continue its war against piracy. Effective or not, the Hadopi office will continue to track down millions of French file-sharers each month in the hope that the tide turns in their favor.

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