Just over a decade ago, France stepped forward with a grand project to tackle the millions of individuals downloading content via peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent.
In 2010, via newly-formed government agency Hadopi (High Authority for the Distribution and Protection of Intellectual Property on the Internet), the country introduced the so-called “graduated response” system, with the aim of sending file-sharers escalating warnings carrying the threat of fines and even Internet disconnections.
Hadopi publishes regular updates on its progress in highly-detailed reports, which tend to emphasize the importance of the project, its successes, and justifications for continuing in the face of the online piracy threat. The latest edition continues that trend but some of the statistics raise the question of whether a system designed to tackle the problems of a decade ago remains fit for purpose.
Referrals By Copyright Holders Down
Hadopi’s sprawling 128-page report for last year (pdf) has just been published, revealing that in 2019, rightsholders – who track alleged pirates on BitTorrent-like systems – referred nine million cases to the authority for investigation, a significant decrease on the 14 million referrals made in 2018.
However, as highlighted by Next INpact, a referral does not automatically result in a corresponding warning sent to an alleged pirate. In fact, since October 2010, Hadopi has sent out just 12.7 million warnings, a fraction of the number of referrals received from rightsholders.
Lowest Number of Notices Sent
Approximately 830,000 warning notices were sent out to alleged pirates in 2019, the lowest number to date. This figure contains 619,687 ‘first strike’ and 208,104 ‘second strike’ notices which, according to Hadopi, is an indicator of success since only a third of first-time offenders go on to re-offend. Overall, just 4,210 notices were issued at the ‘third strike’ stage.
At the top end, 1,750 cases representing the most serious matters (in Hadopi’s opinion) were subsequently referred to the public prosecutor for potential further action, including maximum fines of €1,500.
Hadopi attributes this downwards trend mainly to “…changes in consumption of cultural works on the Internet and the unprecedented increase in legal offers.” While this assessment is entirely credible, it does warrant further explanation.
Changes in Consumption Habits and Mechanisms
Since the creation of the Hadopi agency, its mission to crack down on peer-to-peer pirates has undoubtedly been affected by shifts in consumer behavior. In terms of the positives for copyright holders, legitimate services are more accessible and numerous than ever, something that has begun to encourage people to buy more content, even if they still pirate some as well.
Nevertheless, there’s still no shortage of people sharing content on easily-monitored networks such as BitTorrent but, with the rise of no-logging VPNs and more secure torrenting methods (such as cloud services and seedboxes), many of the remaining users are harder to trace.
Perhaps more importantly, however, the massive shift towards streaming sites, file-hosting platforms, and pirate IPTV services in the past decade cannot be underestimated. Not only are the users frequenting these services exponentially harder to track, but they fall outside the warning notification system operated by Hadopi. With no ability to send these users even a first strike, they can never receive a second or a third.
Is the Huge Cost of Running Hadopi Worth it in 2020?
Finally, this brings us to the cost of keeping Hadopi running. As calculated by Next INpact, in the 10 years since it was founded, the anti-piracy agency has cost the French taxpayer 82 million euros to maintain.
While the agency argues that its main aim is to educate people away from piracy and towards behaving legally, those millions from the public purse dwarf the amount that persistent pirates have been fined in the last decade – a somewhat paltry 87,000 euros.
The full report can be obtained here (pdf, French)