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Music piracy: the French position

A recent report to the French Cultural Minister indicated that, since 2002, music sales have halved and digital sales are not compensating for this loss. It seems that more of the value in the music industry is moving away from traditional sales, towards Internet Service Providers, online video platforms and digital materials sellers.

November 2012

France's response to illegal downloading was to introduce the "Creation and Internet Law" ("HADOPI 1"), implemented in June 2009 and the "Law for the Protection under Criminal Laws of Artistic and Literary works on the internet" ("HADOPI 2"), implemented in September 2009.

After three years of difficulty following the implementation of the HADOPI laws, the French government has announced the Act 2 of France's "cultural exception" – a set of rules for protecting Francophone culture – including a reform of HADOPI laws. In this period of transition, it is interesting to review France's response to music piracy as well as its endeavours to support the music industry.

Graduated response to piracy

Three strikes procedureThe HADOPI laws introduced a graduated response, or "three strikes procedure", enforced by an independent administrative authority which acts against individual internet users suspected of copyright infringement. This approach is similar to that envisaged under the UK's Digital Economy Act 2010 and corresponding Initial Obligations Code (read more about the Digital Economy Act 2010).

After sending two "recommendations" to the internet user reminding them of their "duty to supervise the use of their account", if the account is identified as having been used for a third infringement, the authority can transfer the case to a criminal court. The judge is empowered to order a range of penalties, including account suspension for up to one month and a fine of up to €1,500.

To date, only 18 files have been transferred to the criminal courts. In September 2012, one internet subscriber was convicted of failing to secure access to their internet account and sentenced to pay a €150 fine. HADOPI’s efficiency and results are highly controversial for at least two reasons:

  • It is relatively easy to circumvent HADOPI requirements (by using an anonymous proxy or a VPN server that conceals the end user's IP address, allowing copyrighted content to be downloaded without leaving a trace).
  • Moreover, the graduated procedure only concerns illegal downloading and not music streaming.

Label "PUR"identify legitimate services

The other goal of HADOPI laws was to promote and develop legal ways to download online cultural and creative content by granting copyright compliant platforms the label "PUR" ("Promotion des Usages Responsables" or Promotion of Responsible Use), in order to help internet users to identify legitimate services.

By March 2012, 46 platforms had been granted the PUR label. A study shows that only 8 of the "PUR" platforms are using the "PUR" logo as a way to attract consumers, while 48% of the selected platforms are not displaying it at all (for example, leading companies like iTunes, Amazon, Spotify). In these circumstances, it is hard to assess the actual impact of the PUR label on the development of legitimate services.

"Carte Musique Jeune"

Assuming that educating young people to buy legal content would be an efficient way to develop the digital music market, the government launched the "Carte Musique Jeune" in October 2010.

The "Carte Musique Jeune" is a 5, 10 or 25 € music pass, an amount that is then doubled, funded by state subsidies, which can be spent by buying music on twelve online music platforms.

The original objective was to sell 1 million "Carte Musique Jeune" a year, but to date, only 70,615 cards have been distributed. The system ended on 25 October 2012 due to general indifference.

Centre National de la Musique: National Centre for Music

A major part of the campaign to support the music industry was to create the "Centre National de la Musique" (CNM, National Centre for Music), with the aim of streamlining and strengthening the government sponsorship of the industry.

Since abandoned due to lack of funding, the CNM would have distributed subsidies to support musical creation, phonograms production and live music shows. Part of these subsides focused on digital services to encourage diversity, innovation and development of French and Francophone creation in an online music offer.

Mission Lescure, Act 2 of France's "cultural exception"

Find a solutionIn its most recent attempt to address music piracy, the Cultural Minister commissioned the former president of a major television channel, Pierre Lescure, to find new solutions to adapt France's "cultural exception" to the digital era, in partnership with professionals from the cultural industries.

The Mission Lescure has also been mandated to give specific suggestions about taxing key players of the digital world (such as Google and internet service providers) to support artistic creation.

While the Lescure Mission is ongoing, the first practical ideas to support the music industry transition to digital era are as follows:

  • To focus on large-scale commercial piracy and illegal streaming instead of individual piracy via peer-to-peer networks;
  • Artists have recommended the development of music package offers and the introduction of specific collective management to encourage legal streaming platforms; and
  • HADOPI, whose very existence may be at stake, has requested increased authority, such as the power to delist pirate websites from internet search engines.

The final report will be issued in March 2013 with the aim of passing a new law addressing both cultural industries' concerns and internet users' legitimate interests. The solution to be adopted is yet to be known.

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An overview of France’s response to music piracy
Benjamin Giniez

Benjamin Giniez  

Gabrielle Christiansen

Gabrielle Christiansen






Benjamin Giniez and Gabrielle Chistiansen look at how the French legal system is addressing music piracy.

"The Mission Lescure has also been mandated to give specific suggestions about taxing key players of the digital world (such as Google and internet service providers) to support artistic creation."