Patrice on the Sarkozy/Schwarzenegger plan

Patrice (who refuses to have a web presence so i cannot link him) has some thoughtful comments on the recent french initiative to combat ‘casual illegal file sharing’ by having ISPs terminate internet connections of ‘persistent pirates’. Apparently ISPs have to monitor the data streams of their subscribers and report those who are engaging in file sharing to an ‘independent body’[1] who can then issue warnings and after two warnings order the ISPs to terminate the internet accounts of the ‘pirates’. sounds a bit like the Californian three-strikes-and-you-are-out regulation and i guess that is why Tilman Lueder calls this the Sarkozy/Schwarzenegger plan’.

Sarkozy himself prefers to call this ‘A decisive moment for the future of a civilized internet’, something which is hard to argue with as this will most likely result in lots of dumb-ass adolescents being disconnected form the internets which in turn will result in less nonsense being posted to youtube and less time wasted on myspace and facebook, which is a good thing. plus this will give these kids plenty of time to acquire the skills they need to participate in the 21st century knowledge economy (by reading good old fashioned books and writing letters to each other). sounds like a seriously well thought out plan to me….

But before i get carried away, here is what Patrice had to say on the good old (in fact so old that the archive has not caught up yet so i cannot link) nettime mailing list. He is quoting this BBC news article before his comments so you might want to read that first:

From all the “clue-less about the Internet” politicians, the French would seem the ones who have put the most ‘less’ into the ‘clue’ (Thank you, Gunner ;-) This impression, alas, is very deceptive. They have probably thought the most of all about it, and they came to very, very wrong conclusions and decisions. This of course, with not a little help of the lobbying industry, but mainly because of their own (mis)representation of what the whole issue is about. And to understand that you have to dig deeper.

French ‘Republican’ intellectuals, from which class politicians are coming to a (wo)man, hold two beliefs that are deeply inimical to the Internet economy as we know it (for a large part): a quasi-religious faith in the ‘moral right’ of the (intellectual) author, which, suitably reformulated to the wishes of the ‘creative’ industries, gives it a much higher moral highground than in the rest of the world (piracy becomes then the real thing). And, less well known, an abhorence of ‘gratuity’ (“La gratuite, c’est le vol” – ‘gratuity = theft’ is a very commonly held opinion). Getting things for free, or to be more precise, without payment in legal currency, is considered unlawful by default, because harmful to the proper order of society. (Hence France also going after ‘LETS’ systems, for instance)

These two comvictions are then combined with yet another commonly held belief in political circles, subsumed in the funny 1970s slogan “In France we don’t have oil, but we have ideas!”. This has led to a very peculiar, that is litteral, interpretation of the “Oil of the 21st Century” concept, loudly advocated by prominent public economists like Alain Minc and Jacques Attali[2]. The French ‘knowledge economy’ shall be firmly copyright based – or bust. All this results in an irresistible aggregate argument to legislate for ‘robust protection of intellectual property’, against which more enlightened critics in the digital community and some intellectual circles (eg the group around the review ‘Multitudes’) are rather helpless.

And how pig-headed the French position may look like, it could well provide an attractive example for other legislations, especially the more authoritarian ones, to follow.

On a more serious note i have to agree with Patrice here. If this plan is really going through this will almost definitely make the copyright ayatollahs in other countries salivate for similar arrangements… [in fact they (a.k.a the Phonographic Inquisition) already are]


  1. Given the composition of the group that came up with this plan (the copyright/entertainment industry mafia and the ISPs/telcos) this should probably be read as ‘without any representation of consumer interests’ ↩︎

  2. [On 27/11/07 Patrice posted the following correction]: Miguel Afonso Caetano send me a rejoinder which I think I should share with the list since he didn’t post it himself. Apparently I am/was deeply wrong about Jacques Attali stand on IP, portraying him as a fundamentalist. I must confess that my pronouncement was based on a limited knowledge of his work, since I read only one book of his (forgot the title – and he wrote so many… ;-( where I got the impression that he put a lot of trust in knowledge as a marketable good (and he was refering to copyright I am sure – but then…) In any case I am glad there is a voice of reason among hi-profile, mainstream French intellectuals. ↩︎

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