The anti-privacy/liberty law named Hadopi

The Hadopi law(en) being voted now in France, constitutes an incredible attack on Freedom of expression and Privacy. It is fascinating to see how a law that gives the state an easy route to invade people's every digital thought is being pushed through, and will very likely be accepted by the French parliament on Monday May 4, 2009.

Parliamentary Maneuverings

The maneuvers of the French parliament here take some work to understand. A few weeks ago Hadopi was rejected in the Assembly by 21 votes against, 15 for. For an Assembly containing well over 300 deputies, and for a law of such importance, it may seem odd that so few people were part of the discussion. The best understanding I have of this is that President Sarkozy, has made this a very personal issue, having promised to a lot of big media friends, with which he is very close, to put in place a system to break the problem of "piracy" on the internet. Anyone in the majority who may have been tepidly against the law, may not have wished making such a powerful enemy. Others may have thought the law was a done deal given the backing. And sadly I think most of the deputies don't really understand the issue at all, as reveled by this video asking deputies what p2p is.

The Anti-Piracy law

Having lost the first vote, Sarkozi ordered his troops together to make his majority in parliament felt by having them massively vote for the law. The problem is that the majority voting now have very little understanding of the technical issues in front of them. Their view of the issue is the one a large part of the French population have: this is simply an issue of being for or against the Pirates; being for or against the artists. "Piracy is theft" is the simplifying drumbeat which organises their thoughts.

Coming to the defence of artists is of course a very noble thing to do. I myself try to stay as clean as possible in that regard, favoring works that are clearly licensed openly. Most work I publish under very free licences, that make it close to impossible to pirate my work. This article for example is published under a Creativce Commons attribution licence. In any case I find it much easier to buy or rent DVDs than to search for content that may be broken on some other p2p network.

What the best way to defend artists is, and how to find ways of rewarding their work is a complex issue. For the past 50 years people have mostly accepted electronic work to be freely available via the radio or the television -- if interspersed with advertising. I don't want to look into this problem here. For some good ideas one should read and listen to Lawrence Lessig speak on the issue of copyright and the future of the network, or the French economist Jaques Attali write about 10 steps to solve this problem.

The Anti-Privacy/Liberty Law

However noble the issue of saving artists is, the real problem is how this law intends to go about doing what it set out to do. And if one looks at it this way, one soon gets a bad feeling of having entered a Orwellian 1984 like world! (See the public letter "Sci-Fi Against Hadopi") The law is not just anti-piracy, it is also anti-privacy, anti-freedom of expression, anti-freedom of all sorts. It is like a super DDT, a chemical that gets rid of all insects, but is so powerful that it also starts killing humans too.

The Hadopi law (pdf) will enable a newly established administrative higher authority to receive ip addresses from content owners, and ask telecommunication companies to reveal the owners of that ip address, to whom they will send 2 warning e-mails, telling them that something illegal is being downloaded or uploaded from their network, and asking them to secure this network. It seems that this warning will not even mention the work that is thought to have been illegally transmitted. After the third postal warning the internet connection will be cut off. At that point the citizen whose connection will be cut off, will be placed on a black list, making it impossible for him to seek any other telephone connection. As it will be extremly difficult for him to defend himself, he will then have to accept putting a yet undefined piece of software on his network that will snoop everything he is doing. One motion required this software to also sniff the email communications [ I am not absolutely clear this went through though.]

So in short, private companies will be able to anonymously denounce French citizens, leading their internet connection to be cut off, and then forcing them to install snooping software on their network to prove their innocence! If this is not an extreem invasion of privacy I do not know what is.

To help citizens who want to stay legal find their way around the internet, the Hadopi institution will distribute special labels for clean content. Good citizens will be safe if they don't stray too far from officially approved sites. If this is not an attack on freedom of information I don't know what is!

Where is the resistance?

So over the past few weeks as my concern grew I tried discussing this with a number of people. My initial thought was that an issue such as this would not get through in a country that demonstrates on nearly every issue that comes up. What stunned me was the silence, or the lack of interest in these issues by most people. It is instructive in my view to look at various types of responses I got.

The law cannot be implemented view

A lot of people are convinced that this law cannot be implemented. It is too crazy to be workable. Let us hope and pray that it is! The previous DADVSI law wich had set punishments of €300 000 and 3 years in prison, was so extreemly overwhelmingly powerful, that it indeed was not useable.

But that argument is very dangerous. The DADVSI may not yet have been used, but it may one day be. It is certainly what is spurring the current law, Hadopi, which comparatively seems innocuously kind. It only will ask you to install snooping software on your network. And since it is big brother the State asking this, and most people have no idea of what this implies, a lot of people may very well be frightened into accepting this. In any case it does not matter if it is not immediately applicable. It need only slowly with time work itself into people's lives. If enough people have this working, even if it is widely bypassed, then you can bet that in 10 years time, a movement will start where people who do have this installed will complain that some of their fellow citizens don't have it, and so push for harsher laws, perhaps going so far as to install this automatically on all networks.

We can bypass it

A lot of technically savvy people have convinced themselves they can bypass this easily.

So what if they do? The law need only frighten the majority into behaving a certain way. With time, and with the majority on their side, they can add other laws to make the undesirable behavior a lot more difficult. For example for those who think that anonymising software is going to be an easy way out, then they should look at the next law on the table: Llopsi which will give the State the power to block any IP address they need to. Now perhaps a good use case for Llopsi will be large anonymiser services.

Not fighting a law because one decides one will not follow it, is a very selfish and short term way of thinking. Sadly it seems to have grown in a large portion of the population that allowed itself to be tagged as Pirates. And for that selfishness we will all pay (yes, this is not just a French phenomenon, it seems to be a globally orchestrated movement - see for example blackout europe.)

It will be blocked by the constitution

It may be. But then it may not be. In any case it is extreemly worrying that a law should have to go so far as to require blocking by the constitution. Remember how Lawrence Lessig's attempt to get the Supreme court to change the provisions on copyright? It failed.

It will be blocked by the European Union

The EU is a Union of States, where the states have an overwhelming power. The EU does not have an army and cannot enforce much. France has the "cultural exception" it can use quite easily, and it may also be that similar problems are brewing in the rest of europe. Don't count on the EU. The parliament have done a great job there, but they don't have the final say, and they can be pressured. They have just watered down the telecom bill for example. The EU is not the USA.

The people will rise

This is unlikely given what I have seen. Many people don't yet really feel the power of the internet. They work with the internet via the expensive and limited cell phone networks, if at all. For them the Internet is cool, but not essential. Furthermore traditional media are still extremely powerful, and they can direct the message the way they wish. If they were not so powerful, laws such as this would not ever be able to go so far. I don't watch enough television to be able to tell if both sides of the debate here have been aired equally. My guess is not. [ Update: the major French television channel TF1 - the first french TV channel to be created, now privatised - was found to have sacked the head of their innovation center, for having sent privately a critical message on Hadopi to his Member of Parliament as reported by Libération. Thereby confirming the suspicion that other sides of this debate are not getting equal airing time]

But in the long term the people may very well rise. If the law were applied equally and without discrimination then businesses may very well be the first to rise up -- and leave. Later as the internet does become more and more part of every day life, the people themselves may rise. Most likely the younger generation will feel most strongly the difference between what is being asked and what is reasonable. They may feel these new chains most forcefully. Mass movements though are worrying, because when masses move, they can end up being very difficult to control, and can easily go the wrong direction.

All in all I think it would be much better for people in France to call their deputies before the law passes and urge them to change their mind, than to wait and fight this out on the streets.


There are a number of ways people can get their voice heard. One is the twitition petition. But I don't like the way it requires your password. Better I think to add the string JVoteContreHadopi to a blog post or tweet of yours. After a little time the vote should appear on this Google query where the votes can be counted. (We did this for when voting for Java 6 on OSX leopard.)


Over this Hadopi topic and some other questions raised by the "cloud", you may find this initiative interesting :


Posted by jean-marc mercier on May 18, 2009 at 01:56 AM CEST #

You probably missed quite a few blogs when analysing french resistance. Mine, for instance (ReadWriteWeb France), has been constantly promoting scientific studies showing how the basic argument of the law (piracy=loss in sales) was wrong, and how culture could leverage piracy. Not to mention many other counter arguments to the law, intense collaboration between people like me, coming from the bloggosphere, and political figures en France, various meetings we have organized between scientific and political figures, and so on. I'm pretty sure you've heard about Charles de Gaulle, a figure in French resistance, but also a pretty lonesome guy when it all started in London. Those things take time and experience, bashing it is not helping in any way.

Today, after having initiated a Pirate Network (quite efficient as an collaborative network but not such a good idea as a marketing channel, I must say), after having written tons of posts, set up a 'digital rights' petition, prevented a lobby representative (Frederic Lefebvre) from becoming our internet French Secretary with an intense viral marketing campaign, we're starting someting new - - a mix between social media, social network and link journalism to continue the battle. We're learning, but most of all, we're resisting. (for more information, in French, check out )

Your analysis of the law is quite spot on, the way you see the resistance to this law is quite flawed, sorry.

Posted by Fabrice Epelboin on May 24, 2009 at 08:28 AM CEST #

Hi Fabrice, you are correct, there was a lot of movement on the french internet. I kept a sample of some of the posts on the subject in my delicious feed

And yes, readwriteweb did a great job too. I very much liked yesterday's article

So I suppose I was just a bit surprised by the very low turnout to the demonstrations in France. I think the one in Paris on the 25 April had 500 people turn up, which is very little compared to the millions of people who will be affected.

It is of course clear that the big media were silencing the debate, as was revealed with the scandal of the largest television channel's TF1 web master who was fired for writing a private email to his MP criticising the law.

The points I noticed above were more to do with the discussions I tried to have with people in bars and various places on the subject. The idea that this law was not applicable was making a lot of people not take an interest in being more vocal against it. Even if laws are not implemented, they are always later used as arguments to push other agendas through. DADVSI for example was used here to push hadopi through, as it was easy to argue that hadopi was a very kind and friendly law compared to the innaplicable DADVSI.

By the way, if you really are fighting big media here, one should be weary that they are of course masters of manipulation of the public discourse. And so I found it odd that the excuses not to be interested in this debate were so widely disseminated, and so potent.

So with luck the constutional court will repeal this law, and the this debate will now have sparked wide enough inerest, for a real conversation to take place. Something along the lines of this FR3 TV program:

Posted by Henry Story on May 24, 2009 at 08:54 AM CEST #

Yep, transforming 'IRL' online activism is pretty difficult, and maybe we should consider doing without any IRL demonstration (this is so XXth century, after all).

Although this law is impossible to apply in reality, we should'nt stop mentioning that the Loppsi law is (packet sniffing, and many other things about to kill net neutrality in France). Still, the simple fact that this is becoming a conversation in coffe shops is a victory over big media by itself, and these day, major newspapers are talking about Hodopi and Loppsi on a daily basis... Of course, mainly because they realize they have lost their credibility by censoring it, but still, it's a good thing.

Posted by Fabrice Epelboin on May 24, 2009 at 09:06 AM CEST #

One last thought I had for a way to act now, to gather support in the only way that would show respect to the independence of the Consitutional Court, would be to hold nightly silent and meditative candle lit vigils around France to pray for the future of an internet Libre.

Posted by Henry Story on May 24, 2009 at 09:15 AM CEST #

I'm not a believer in the holyness of the Constitutional Court (remember Christine Albanel was a close collabortor to Jacques Chirac for 15 years).

Actualy, we're trying to make some buzz in the States about this law. The french government is very sensitive when it comes to its public figure as seen in the USA. Chris Heuer from the SMC is helping us with this, I'm sure he'll do a great work ;-)

If the french politics, when the Loppsi law is about to be voted, are aware that the world is watching, this will have a great impact.

Posted by Fabrice Epelboin on May 24, 2009 at 09:20 AM CEST #

Yes, many different pressure points are needed of course, though at this point with #hadopi, as you are dealing with the Constitutional Court they can only be very very diplomatic.

Which is why I was suggesting a quiet but visible vigil ( loud, aggressive demonstrations of any kind would of course be completely counter productive ). So I was not suggesting that the Constitutional Court is holy of course, and politics and friendships play their role. But they do have a very serious national function as defenders of the constitution, and so millions of people meditating with them, would I believe help them focus on the importance of their role.

The next battle with Loppsi, is also one that touches every other country in Europe, and probably the United States. At least I found similar laws being pushed through in Germany and the UK

Posted by Henry Story on May 24, 2009 at 12:47 PM CEST #

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