A French court recently fined Alain Prevost €150 for pirating two tracks by the artist Rihanna. The irony is that it was actually his wife who had downloaded the tracks without his knowledge. Unfortunately, Prevost found himself targeted by this action because he was the bill payer for the internet connection through which the songs were downloaded.
France has recently been taking a progressively more hard line approach towards policing piracy over the internet. It is known that there are currently 14 similar such actions being brought before the French courts. At the same time, the HADOPI law (law promoting the distribution and protection of creative works on the internet) is facing a severe backlash in its public image with French digital rights group “La Quadrature du Net” stating that this action is “pure harassment and intimidation of this poor chap who doesn’t even know what happened to him”.
The HADOPI law applies a “three strikes” system where offenders are given three warnings for their activities before any action is taken against them. This process begins after Hadopi has received a complaint by a copyright holder or their representative. Actions can range from a fine as in Prevost’s case or even forfeiting one’s internet connection.
Prevost, appearing without a lawyer, openly admitted in court that the songs were downloaded by his wife using the internet connection he was paying for. Yet, in his court testimony, Prevost insisted that he was “incapable of downloading anything”. This case is further complicated by two issues. The first is that he had terminated his web account after receiving the second warning from the French watchdog agency “Hadopi”, whose dedicated objective is seeking out pirates in France. Secondly, he is in the process of obtaining a divorce from his wife.
Prevost wrote a letter to Hadopi telling it to contact his wife about the downloads. However, in a monumental communication gaffe, Hadopi attempted to reply to him via e-mail which he no longer had access to at the time. Subsequently, he was served with a summons to answer for his wife’s misdeeds on the web.
For violating the three strikes law, Prevost risked facing a fine of up to €1,500 along with the possibility of having his internet connection cut off for a month. The prosecution initially sought €300, however the court decided to half this penalty after taking sight of all the facts. Some critics have even stated that if Prevost had simply said “I didn’t do it”, he would have paid nothing at all and the action may have either been dropped or targeted at his wife instead.
While there is nothing right in endorsing piracy, it is worth putting the issue into perspective. Had the tracks been purchased via digital distribution, they would likely have cost Mrs Prevost no more than €10. This begs the question as to the fairness of the remedy being applied. On the one hand, it is evident that the penalty far outweighs the value of the items acquired illegally. On the other hand, this is a matter of breaking a law and the remedy ought to create “cautionary tales” to anybody else who may consider doing the same thing.
Taking these issues into consideration, the law and remedy are fair in themselves. The only real controversial issue in this case is the fact that the subject of liability in this case literally had nothing to do with it. This case highlights the daunting reality that traditional legal thinking does not always lend itself well to situations where technology is involved. Hopefully, this situation will bring the French government to refine this law to be more clinical in its approach.