Last year a new device came along which sought to ride the wave of new-style digital media consumption. The Freebox Revolution, from French ISP ‘Free’, consists of a hardware player and separate server offering 300 TV channels, catch-up TV, VOD, NAS hard drive, Blu-Ray player, gamepad and the ability to download games and software directly to the device.
“Free is basically taking head-on Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft for the games, Microsoft (again), Yahoo, Apple, Google and Boxee for the internet TV, Sony and countless other hardware manufacturers for the Blu-Ray player,” BusinessInsider declared on launch of the box.
Naturally the device has all the network options, including WiFi, ADSL and cable connections, and can browse the web via HTTP and grab files using FTP. But shock, horror, it also has another resident protocol – our friend BitTorrent. Entertainment chiefs, it appears, are not amused.
“We have already encountered problems with Free in the past but they have corrected it on the newsgroups in particular,” said Pascal Rogard, CEO of the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers (SACD), on hearing news of protocol’s inclusion.
Under pressure from the industry, in 2008 Free agreed to censor its free Usenet service by partially blocking access to some groups allegedly containing infringing material.
“I’m sure Maxime Lombardini, chief executive of Iliad [Free's parent company], will be keen to address the [new] problem,” Rogard noted.
“We can have experts from the music and film industry to look at the new box to see possible solutions. I am sure that the company will modify the software to stop this service.”
But the complaints haven’t stopped there. According to the L’Express, Disney – who supply content for distribution via Free – were said to be surprised by the BitTorrent feature of the box, so too Warner.
Even French anti-piracy agency HADOPI are reportedly aware of the problem but have “not yet been led to investigate the matter.”
But perhaps most outspoken on the issue has been David El Sayegh, head of Legal Affairs at SNEP (Syndicat National de l’Édition Phonographique), the outfit which protects the interests of the French record industry.
“It’s amazing!” said El Sayegh. “This technology is not neutral, it clearly offers illegal downloading of content without a PC.”
El Sayegh says that current French law states that vendors cannot “make available to the public or communicate to the public, knowingly and in any form whatsoever, a program clearly intended for the provision of public works or unauthorized protected objects and knowingly encourage [its use], including through an advertisement.”
But El Sayegh’s interpretation in respect of this particularly issue is disputed by Guillaume Champeau of French tech-news outlet Numerama.
“For an offense to be proven it would need to be shown that Free has encouraged its customers to go to BitTorrent sites where pirated movies are indexed, or at the very least the company developed this tool with that in mind,” he writes, further noting that it has always been for Free’s users to decide how they use the tools provided to them.
The signals being piped into billions of television and radio sets around the world have traditionally provided huge revenue streams for entertainment companies. Maintaining control of these streams proved relatively easy for many years, whether that was via terrestrial, satellite or cable broadcasts. And then along came the Internet and shook everything up.
Demanding that BitTorrent should be removed from a device on legal grounds is as crazy as requiring the same for HTTP because it can be used to access RapidShare. But every file transfer mechanism not under the command of the entertainment companies has the potential to weaken their control, and they won’t like that, whether they carry infringing content or not.