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France to draft blacklist banning alleged piracy websites – what could POSSIBLY go wrong?

La censure! Le bord mince de la cale de fromage, mes amis!

France looks set to increase funding and power for its controversial piracy-battling Hadopi agency.

Hadopi started life as a law to stamp out the illegal sharing of copyrighted stuff – primarily by sending warning emails to people caught pirating movies, games, and so on: after three strikes, your ISP is supposed to boot you offline.

But last year the authorities removed the controversial cut-off threat; now the state relies on fines to enforce copyright laws and fight online piracy.

Hadopi (Haute autorité pour la diffusion des œuvres et la protection des droits sur l’internet) has not been particularly successful, and has seen its budget steadily decline from a high of €12m to just €6m for 2015.

However, following a meeting with Hadopi President Mireille Imbert-Quaretta, French culture minister Fleur Pellerin said last week that she was prepared to give the agency a bigger budget.

According to digital rights group EDRi, this spells trouble for French citizens online: along with the extra cash, Pellerin plans to allow the enforcement body to draw up and publish blacklists of allegedly copyright-shafting websites.

Under EU law, ISPs and file sharing sites are not responsible for copyright infringement if they take a passive, hands-off approach and allow any and all transfers between users.

However, if these intermediaries are made aware that a download source has been deemed “manifestly illegal” by the Hadopi agency, they could become liable if access to the content is not blocked quickly enough. A published blacklist could suffice to prove intermediaries knew a certain website or file was unlawful.

Pellerin described the blacklists as "interesting and sensible."

"The establishment and the publication of blacklists appear to be perfectly in line with the competencies of the Hadopi," said Pellerin.

But EDRi sees the mechanism as "censorship."

"France wants to give a government agency censorship powers, just as Turkey and Italy have done. As a state agency – and not court orders – would determine the legality of a website. EDRi is very concerned, not least because this is clearly in breach of international human rights law," said EDRi managing director Kirsten Fiedler. ®

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