November 25, 2020

Media Cache: While in France, Watch What You Download

PARIS — More than 800 members of the global digerati are to gather this week in Paris, at the invitation of President Nicolas Sarkozy, to discuss the future of the Internet. Here are a few tips for participants in the so-called E-G8 Forum.

Travel light
It has been warm and dry in Paris this spring, and the forecast calls for more of the same.

Watch what you download
France, remember, recently enacted a law to crack down on digital piracy of music and movies, the centerpiece of Mr. Sarkozy’s efforts to help content creators and copyright owners get remunerated for their work. Under the law, repeat offenders face the threat of a suspension of their Internet access.

Or do they? How is the so-called three strikes system actually performing? Do those attending E-G8 have anything to fear?

Not during the two days of the forum — that much is clear. Last week, after a data leak had been discovered, the government agency enforcing the law said it had temporarily severed its connection with the company supplying it with details about alleged offenders.

The French data protection authority, CNIL, said it was investigating the breach at the company, Trident Media Guard, which works on behalf of content owners, rather than the agency, called Hadopi. The findings will not be known for several weeks.

Not to worry, Hadopi said. It still has plenty of dossiers to process in the meantime and will keep sending out warnings to those suspected of sharing files illegally.

What of the Internet users who have already heard from Hadopi? The agency says it has sent out tens of thousands of admonishments via e-mail and, in some cases, is moving on to a second warning, by registered mail.

There are tentative signs that this may be working. In a survey published this month by Hadopi, 7 percent of French Internet users said they had received a warning or knew someone who had. Seventy-two percent of the recipients said they had stopped or reduced their illegal file-sharing activity as a result.

So far, however, this does not seem to have translated into a turnaround for the ailing recorded music industry. The industry’s French trade association says sales in the first quarter fell 5 percent. While digital sales rose 13 percent, to a modest €26 million, or $37 million, CD sales continued to fall.

Meanwhile Hadopi is broadening its educational role by reviewing applications from digital music services for labels certifying that their offerings are legal. When this is complete, the agency wants to set up a Web site providing links to approved services.

But the data protection agency recently criticized Hadopi for delays in meeting one requirement of the law: that it detail the ways in which Internet users can secure their private networks against illegal file sharing. As long as such software is unavailable, it could be difficult for the agency to secure court orders to execute the third of three strikes, which would cut off Internet access.

It is not even clear that Mr. Sarkozy wants things to advance to that stage.

In a speech last month when he introduced a new agency called the National Digital Council, which will advise the government on technological matters, Mr. Sarkozy let it slip that he thought Hadopi was an “imperfect solution,” rather than “an end in itself.” He even appeared to suggest that he would consider ditching Hadopi if Internet companies found fair ways to remunerate content creators.

The Élysée Palace quickly went into damage-control mode, expressing Mr. Sarkozy’s “full support” for Hadopi.

“Neither the merits of Hadopi’s actions nor the need for a determined fight against piracy have been cast into doubt by the president of the republic,” it said in a statement.

So we repeat: Watch what you download. This is your second warning. And, on second thought, a raincoat is never a bad idea in Paris.

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Spain’s Governing Party Suffers Heavy Losses

Conceding defeat on Sunday night, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said that his Socialist Party had been understandably punished by voters for overseeing an economic crisis that had left Spain with a 21 percent jobless rate, more than twice the European average.

“These results are very clearly related to the effects of the economic crisis that we have been suffering for almost three years,” Mr. Zapatero said in a televised address. “Almost two million jobs have been destroyed and I know that a lot of Spaniards are facing serious problems. Today, without a doubt, they have expressed their discomfort.”

Meanwhile, underscoring how they have unexpectedly seized the initiative from established political parties, trade unions and other institutions, thousands of protesters gathered Sunday for an eighth consecutive day in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid as well as the main squares in other cities.

The youth-led movement, the first to manifest in any meaningful way since austerity began to bite in Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, has caught Spain’s traditional politicians flat-footed. At the same time, some of the campaign’s participants have been struggling to come to terms with their own success and grappling with the need to give more coherence to their wide-ranging grievances in order to keep their campaign alive beyond the election.

The demonstrators, who insist that they have no party affiliation, want a more representative democratic system and are demanding an end to political corruption. Their anger toward established parties has been fueled by the debt crisis and the surge in joblessness, but their grievances also include a call for a cut in military spending, the closing of nuclear power plants and the end of some laws, like recent legislation aimed at punishing digital piracy.

The groups that have turned Madrid’s Puerta del Sol into the epicenter of the nationwide movement plan to remain there until at least next Sunday. The protests in Barcelona, the second-largest Spanish city, are expected to culminate in a major march on June 15, to end in front of the Catalan Parliament.

“If you had told me a few months ago that thousands of people would take to the streets to complain about our political system,” said one protester, María Subinas, “I would have found it hard to believe, because it looked like we were an apathetic generation that was incapable of responding to a crisis even when it was destroying our jobs like a tsunami.” Ms. Subinas, 33, who has been in Puerta del Sol since last Sunday, added, “The message has surely gone through to politicians that they can’t just keep ignoring our frustrations and pretend that nothing has changed.”

The Popular Party won 37.6 percent of the votes on Sunday, compared with 27.8 percent for the Socialists, according to preliminary results released at midnight with 98 percent of the votes counted. Despite popular discontent with established parties, turnout rose to 66 percent from 63 percent four years earlier.

Mr. Zapatero, who has been in office since 2004, announced in April that he would not seek a third term, and the extent of the Socialists’ loss suggests that, even with a new leader, the party will struggle to hold on to power in the general election, expected next March.

Among smaller parties to make notable gains on Sunday was Bildu, a Basque independence party, which won 1.4 percent of the national vote and could secure control of San Sebastián and some other Basque town halls. Bildu was allowed to take part in the election only after a court ruling, amid concerns over its suspected links to ETA, the violent separatist group.

The Socialists lost control in Barcelona and Seville, two of the nation’s largest cities.

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Protests Continue as Spain Goes to the Polls

MADRID — Tens of thousands of demonstrators across Spain continued sit-ins and other protests on Sunday against the established political parties, overshadowing regional and municipal elections that were expected to result in a defeat for the governing Socialist Party.

Demonstrators gathered in the squares of Spanish cities throughout the weekend, even after a ban against such protests went into effect at midnight Friday. Fueling their anger is the perception that politicians have failed to ease economic hardships that many residents are facing. The unemployment rate in Spain is 21 percent, more than twice the European average.

Beyond economic complaints, the protesters are seeking an end to political corruption and an overhaul of Spain’s electoral structure, notably by doing away with the system in which candidates are selected internally by the parties before an election rather than being chosen directly by voters. Demonstrators are also calling for a cut in military spending, the closing of nuclear power plants and the abolishment of some laws, like recent legislation aimed at punishing digital piracy.

The protests, which started May 15, have spread gradually across the country. Spaniards overseas have also held some protests outside their embassies to show their support for an alternative campaign that has almost eclipsed that of the established parties.

More than 34 million voters were called to take part in elections Sunday in 13 of Spain’s 17 regions and about 8,100 municipalities. Some protest groups called for residents to vote for smaller and alternative parties, or to cast a blank ballot.

The protest groups, who insist that they have no party affiliation, were also expected to decide whether to continue their sit-ins after the election. On Saturday, protesters in Barcelona said they would plan a major march on June 15, which would end in front of the Catalan Parliament.

The election was expected to result in a countrywide sweep by the Popular Party, the main center-right opposition, at the expense of the governing Socialists, whose popularity has plummeted because of the economic crisis. The most recent opinion polls suggested that the Socialist Party might lose in regions and municipalities where it had been in power since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s, notably Castilla-La Mancha.

Results are expected to be released late Sunday. Whatever the outcome, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced in April that he would not seek a third term.

Like other leading politicians, Mr. Zapatero was caught flat-footed by the spread of the street protests.

After casting his ballot Sunday morning, he called on eligible voters not to turn their back on the elections. “A large turnout would be the best result for this electoral day,” he said.

The largest protests have been held in Puerta del Sol, a main square in central Madrid. “The voice of the people can never be illegal,” read some of the banners, while others said: “We are not against the system but the system is against us.”

Still, the government did not order the police to use force to break up any protests and sit-ins in Madrid and elsewhere over the weekend, especially given that protests last week had not generated any violence. Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, speaking during a visit to the Murcia region, said that “the police are there to solve problems and not create new ones.”

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