The first European edition of the Copyright and Technology conference took place in London this past Tuesday. The highlight of the event was surely the non-appearance of the keynote speaker: Eric Walter, General Secretary of Hadopi, the French government agency set up in 2010 to administer the French graduated response system. Walter cancelled his appearance at the last minute owing to unspecified “agenda issues.”
The law creating Hadopi was very much an artifact of the administration of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Eric Walter had cycled through a number of ministerial advisory positions in the Sarkozy government before his appointment at Hadopi. In other words, both Walter and Hadopi itself have been very much tied to the now former president.
Furthermore, new French president Francois Hollande had made a campaign promise to dismantle Hadopi (as had his other opponent, the right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen).
So we all had to wonder: was Walter’s cancellation a sign that Hadopi’s existence is being threatened? (And for that matter, was his original request to speak at the conference a sign that he was concerned about the future of his job?)
Fortunately, some of the well-placed attendees at Copyright and Technology London 2012 had some relevant information to share. It seems that the Hollande administration is backing away from its promise to pull the plug on Hadopi, and instead is taking a more deliberate course of reevaluation.
The ambivalence over Hadopi (and over graduated response in general) in the context of France’s move from center-right to socialist government should lead to a healthy dialog about the purpose and economic effects of such a system. This has the potential to be a more productive conversation than the usual ones we get from lawyers, some of which ultimately boil down to complaints that automated systems like Hadopi disenfranchise them from copyright claims processes. (One such comment came at the conference this week from Gilles Vercken, a leading French intellectual property and technology lawyer who gave a very interesting overview of recent developments in France.)
Who actually benefits from a system that is meant to educate users about copyright responsibilities and prosecute repeat infringers? Is it “Big Media,” as epitomized by Vivendi, the French owner of Universal Music Group which pushed hard for the enactment of the Hadopi law? Or is it individual content creators who are finding it harder and harder to get paid?
Governments like those of Francois Hollande are caught in the middle of this. Sarkozy, a conservative, was seen as favoring big business, in this case Vivendi. Hollande is a socialist and therefore presumably in favor of distributing economic goods to the people — including individual content creators. There isn’t much disagreement that online copyright infringement is a problem that has gotten out of hand. Yet the economic statements used to refute graduated response usually come down to “it only benefits Big Media” (a cop-out without analysis to back it up) and “they don’t pay artists anyway” (a separate and irrelevant issue).
The good news is that Hadopi has been amassing statistics on the system’s use that the Hollande administration can use to make a substantive analysis before deciding what to do next. Some of these statistics were in Walter’s presentation, which I obtained from his office and presented myself at the London conference.
There was some discussion at the conference over the validity of statistics on Hadopi’s effect on online copyright infringement in France. Everyone agreed that these things are difficult to measure with any accuracy. Yet the fact remains that four separate independent research studies showed significant reduction in online infringement in France over the first year of Hadopi, and none of the “usual suspects” (such as the advocacy group La Quadrature du Net) have substantively debunked any of them. Steps against online infringement need to be taken in response to hard data; government’s responsibility includes insuring that the data is the best and most unbiased available, even if it isn’t 100% reliable.
Thanks once again to the Copyright and Technology London 2012 sponsors: MarkMonitor, castLabs, Civolution, PicScout, Simons Muirhead & Burton, and Booxtream. And a huge thank-you to Music Ally, the event producers and as excellent a partner as I could hope for.