January 20, 2022

French Appear Ready to Soften Law on Media Piracy

In 2009, French lawmakers, aiming to curb unauthorized file-sharing and to slow the erosion of media industry revenue, approved what was billed as the toughest anti-piracy law in the world. Repeat offenders who ignored two warnings to quit downloading movies or music illegally were confronted with the prospect of a suspension of their Internet connection. The system was emulated in several other countries, including the United States, though generally with softer penalties.

But now the government of President François Hollande appears poised to shut down the agency that was created to enforce the law, imposed under Mr. Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and to defang the measure of much of its menace.

Fleur Pellerin, the French minister in charge of Internet policy, said during a recent visit to a high-technology complex in Sweden that suspending Internet connections was incompatible with the French government’s hopes of spurring growth in the digital economy.

“Today, it’s not possible to cut off Internet access,” she said. “It’s something like cutting off water.”

A report on digital policy that was prepared for the government by Pierre Lescure, the former president of the pay-television company Canal Plus, in April recommended dropping the threat of disconnections and replacing it with a fine of €60, or $78, for repeat offenders. The report also recommended disbanding the enforcement agency, known by its French acronym, Hadopi, and subsuming some of its functions in the French media regulator, Conseil supérieur de l’ audiovisuel.

While government ministers have voiced support for Mr. Lescure’s recommendations, some lawmakers, including Patrick Bloche, an influential Socialist deputy, have suggested that the administration should go further and simply scrap the entire system of warnings and potential penalties.

Despite all the debate that the system has prompted, in and outside France, evidence of its effects remains skimpy. A study by researchers at Wellesley College near Boston and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that was published last year showed that the threat of disconnection was directing more French Internet users toward Apple’s iTunes store, a licensed source of digital music. Separate studies, commissioned by Hadopi, have shown a decline in illegal file sharing.

Yet the French music business remains deeply troubled. SNEP, a French recording company group, said Friday that industry revenue fell by 6.7 percent in the first quarter of the year. More alarmingly, revenue from digital outlets fell by 5.2 percent — the first quarterly decline — though the organization said several special factors played a role in this.

Meanwhile, SNEP said the number of visits to illegal music sites by French Internet users had risen by 7 percent between January 2010 and January 2013, to 10.7 million.

Guillaume Leblanc, director general of SNEP, said the group was willing to accept dropping the threat of disconnection, as long as the warning system was preserved, but said the proposed €60 fine was too low.

“Maintaining graduated response is essential for the music industry,” he said. “For the legal offer to keep developing, it’s important to have strong copyright protection on the Internet.”

While Hadopi has sent out hundreds of thousands of warnings to those suspected of being pirates, only a handful of cases have reached the third and supposedly final stage. Several of these were thrown out by the courts; others resulted in fines or suspended sentences.

“If you cannot chop off a few heads as an example, then the chopping machine inspires less fear,” said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesman for La Quadrature du Net, a group that has campaigned against the law.

Supporters of the law say cutting off large numbers of Internet connections was never the point.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/technology/03iht-piracy03.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

ArcelorMittal Rejects Europe’s Pressure on Job Cuts

The company, ArcelorMittal, has said no.

“Continuing to operate these plants would threaten the overall viability of our business in Europe,” said Nicola Davidson, a spokeswoman for the steel giant, which is based in Luxembourg.

“We are a public company,” Ms. Davidson said Wednesday. “We are responsible to our shareholders.”

And so go the politics and financial realities of steel in Europe, where, along with ArcelorMittal, the German company ThyssenKrupp and the British operations of Tata Steel have announced cutbacks adding up to thousands of European jobs.

“Without steel, there is no Europe,” the official, Antonio Tajani, a European commissioner for industry, said late Tuesday.

He was speaking in Brussels at a third and ostensibly final meeting of government ministers, company executives and union leaders that was aimed at trying to arrest the decline of the European steel business, which employs about 360,000 people. The group is to produce an action plan by summer aimed at reversing the decline in an industry in which Europe was once the world leader.

Mr. Tajani called for ArcelorMittal to delay plans to close plants in four countries and cut thousands of jobs, until the European Commission could present its action plan.

ArcelorMittal, though, said it would proceed on its own timetable.

That could set up a new battle between ArcelorMittal and European political authorities. Late last year the company had a showdown with the French government over ArcelorMittal’s plan to permanently close two idled blast furnaces at Florange, in eastern France. After the government threatened to nationalize the site, the confrontation ended inconclusively; the company promised to invest €180 million, or $242 million, in continuing businesses at Florange but said the blast furnaces would remain shut down.

Along with Florange, ArcelorMittal also plans to close two blast furnaces and other operations in Liège, Belgium, as well as other units in Spain and Luxembourg. At least 3,500 employees will be affected, according to the company, which says it has about 98,000 employees in Europe. The company says that most of the 900 or so people whose jobs have already vanished in Spain and Luxembourg were reassigned elsewhere and that it will try to follow the same practice in France and Belgium.

In a sense ArcelorMittal is turning into what some European leaders feared when its chairman and chief executive led a hostile takeover of the European champion, Arcelor, in 2006. With net debt of about $22 billion — almost equal to the company’s $28 billion stock-market value — Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman of ArcelorMittal, has little choice but to cut the least efficient units in his global business.

And he has little incentive to protect Europe, where his main steel business of supplying the home-appliance and auto industries lost an average of $143 per ton last year. Undersized plants like those at Liège and Florange, which are also far from seaports, are logical targets, analysts say.

But Mr. Mittal is starting to feel Europe’s political heat.

“Mittal has always used governments and unions against each other,” the French industry minister Arnaud Montebourg said in an interview published Wednesday in the newspaper Le Monde. “Here, he’s facing a unified front of the European Commission, the unions and member states.”

“If we let him shut Liège, he’ll continue elsewhere,” Mr. Arnaud added. ‘We didn’t stop him at Florange, maybe we can succeed at Liège.”

Mr. Montebourg and Jean-Claude Marcourt, industry minister for Wallonia, the largely French-speaking area of southern Belgium, say they have allies in Poland, Spain, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/business/global/arcelormittal-rejects-europes-pressure-on-job-cuts.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Digicel’s Denis O’Brien Helps Rebuild Haiti

Denis O’Brien, an impatient Irish billionaire who tends to make his points with a few choice profanities, is determined to change all that.

On a recent sunny morning, he presided over the opening of the 50th school that his vast telecommunications company, Digicel, has rebuilt since the quake struck in 2010 — and then he promptly pledged to build another 80 schools by 2014.

His intention is not, however, to be a one-man force for change. With a skill for what he calls “frying feet,” he has sweet-talked, cajoled, harangued, nagged, strong-armed and shamed government officials, international financiers and business leaders into doing more to rebuild Haiti.

“It’s all about project management,” Mr. O’Brien, 53, said in an interview at Digicel’s offices here. “Everyone’s on hand for the photo op, but where are the 100 houses that were promised after the cameras are gone? I’m the guy who’s going to count them.”

In the process, he has become de facto ambassador for an emerging business-centered approach to the redevelopment of this disaster-prone nation, which has so long relied on the work of nonprofit groups and aid agencies that it is known as the Republic of N.G.O.’s, or nongovernmental organizations.

“We’ve seen the growth of the N.G.O. community here for the last 20 years, and many of them do good work and there is a demand and a need for that work,” said Lionel Delatour, a business consultant and lobbyist whose brothers have served as government ministers. “But N.G.O.’s do not pay taxes, and when they bring their supplies and cars and other goods into the country, they do not pay customs duties.”

Digicel, on the other hand, is the country’s largest employer and taxpayer. The privately held company has invested $600 million in Haiti, making it by far the country’s largest foreign investor ever, and it has democratized communications with its strategy of selling low-price cellphones and services to the masses.

Mr. O’Brien has profited extensively from Haiti, which is Digicel’s largest market and accounts for roughly one-third of its 11.1 million subscribers.

“There is something that is two-way about this relationship,” Mr. Delatour said. “It is not only a story of what Digicel and Mr. O’Brien have done for Haiti, but also what Haiti has done for Digicel and Mr. O’Brien.”

For his part, Mr. O’Brien does not like to hear his work on behalf of the country or Digicel’s largess there described as corporate social responsibility. “If you make money in a poor country, you can’t just take it and disappear,” he said. “It would be bad business.”

Thus, Digicel unveiled plans in November to invest $45 million in a new 173-room hotel next door to its offices, to be run by Marriott. That announcement came at a forum sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank that drew 500 business people from 29 countries.

It was kicked off by a ribbon-cutting at a new industrial park in Caracol whose first tenant will be Sae-A, a Korean apparel manufacturer with extensive experience in Latin America. It is building a plant that plans to employ 20,000 and, unlike the low-wage apparel manufacturing operations that spawned vast urban slums, incorporate housing developments and other infrastructure.

Just last month, Heineken, the Dutch brewing concern, increased to 95 percent from 23 percent its stake in Brasserie Nationale d’Haiti, a Haitian brewery and bottler, saying it saw greater political and economic stability in the country.

Then there are commitments from the 60-odd members of the Haiti Action Network of the Clinton Global Initiative, or C.G.I., which include installing solar panels, increasing energy supplies, refurbishing homes and providing job training.

Mr. O’Brien is charged with overseeing their progress on behalf of former President Bill Clinton, and so after the school opening, he headed to the Hotel Montana to grill the network’s members, as he does 10 times a year.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6de82d41b0a2ec7d95942acc39e50d1d