French antipiracy authority 'happy' it has sent just 14 cases to court in the last year

The French online antipiracy authority has sent out 1.1 million warning emails, and is happy so few of those will have legal consequences

Just 14 of the 1.15 million emails warning of copyright infringement sent out by the French online antipiracy authority have resulted in a case file being sent to a court -- but Mireille Imbert-Quaretta, president of the Commission for Rights Protection, is happy with that.

Imbert-Quaretta chairs the body that applies France's "three strikes" policy on online copyright infringement, receiving complaints from rights holders and sending out warnings to Internet subscribers that their connections are involved in illegal downloads. She sees her role not to prosecute, but to educate and dissuade, she said at a news conference Wednesday.

The Commission, part of the French High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet (Hadopi), sent out its first warning emails on Oct. 1, 2010. By June 30 of this year it had sent out 1,153,460 emails to subscribers. Rights holders made further complaints about 102,854 of them, triggering a second warning from the Commission, this time by registered letter to the subscriber. Just 340 of those have been the subject of continued complaints by rights holders, the third strike that may -- if final warning is ignored -- eventually lead to suspension of their Internet access or a fine.

Hadopi isn't the only way for copyright holders to defend their rights: If they uncover systematic copyright abuse on a larger scale, they still have the option of filing their complaints directly with a court, Imbert-Quaretta said. So far, only publishers of music and video have created the automated processes for submitting complaints to Hadopi about IP addresses seen making available unauthorized copies of works, she said, although games publishers will soon be joining them. So far, no book publishers have shown an interest.

Imbert-Quaretta said she is happy that so few of the million initial complaints reach the fourth stage, because it's a sign that Hadopi is fulfilling its mission to discourage illegal file sharing by education and application of the graduated response.

At each stage of response, the Commission invites the accused to make contact, and seeks to educate them about copyright law and the functioning of file-sharing software. The level of response rises with the seriousness of the warning. Just 6 percent made contact after the first warning, 24 percent after the second, while 75 percent called or visited to discuss their case after the third warning.

Those discussions have revealed high levels of ignorance among Internet subscribers. Imbert-Quaretta gave one example of Hadopi's education work, citing a subscriber who, calling in response to the first warning, said he had now ordered his children to stop sharing music on peer-to-peer networks. When the second warning arrived, he called to say he had found the peer-to-peer app still on the children's computer, and had now dragged its shortcut to the recycle bin. Hadopi staff told him that was not enough, and explained how to go about uninstalling it.

Educating the whole family is something Imbert-Quaretta is taking seriously, if for no other reason than to avoid becoming the butt of office jokes.

"With a teenager in my household," she said, "my colleagues are always asking if I have had to send a warning notice to myself yet."

To date, Hadopi has passed just 14 case files to the courts, although others of the 340 may follow if they are the subject of further complaints by rights holders during the year following their final warning. None of the 14 cases have yet gone to trial, although prosecutors have contacted the Commission for further information about many of them, Imbert-Quaretta said. "Most of those requests have come from the Gendarmerie," the organization that polices rural areas and small towns, she said, something that suggests it may not lack legal download options that drive people to online piracy, as the government has said in the past, but physical stores.

Although none of Hadopi's cases have yet gone to trial, sentence has already been passed in one, Imbert-Quaretta aid. "An Internet subscriber contacted us to say he had suspended his children's Internet access for three months" to put an end to their file sharing.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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