Cultural works in the digital age: anti-piracy bill adopted

21/10/2021

Anne-Marie Pecoraro, associate lawyer specialising in intellectual property, spoke at the EFB on Thursday 21 October 2021, alongside the HADOPI-ARCOM team and Caroline Guenneteau from beIN sport, as part of a training module on the fight against services illegally offering cultural content and sports broadcasts on the Internet – a topical subject, as evidenced by the recent closure of Electro TV Sat, which was illegally broadcasting the paid content of video-on-demand services from Morocco and Tunisia.

Here we look back at the genesis of the bill on the regulation and protection of access to cultural works in the digital age [1] (i) before detailing three of the measures designed to combat online piracy more effectively (ii).

An expected text

The genesis of this bill goes back to the pre-Covid era when the Minister of Culture (Franck Riester) announced a general – “ambitious and global[2] – reform of French audiovisual law – which was finally halted in March 2020.

It was not until April 2021 that the anti-counterfeiting component of the initially planned reform was discussed again with the bill on the regulation and protection of access to cultural works in the digital age.

Composed of 37 articles, it is structured around three axes:

– (i) Strengthening the fight against online piracy (Articles 1 to 7);

– (ii) Modernising the regulation of audiovisual and digital content (Articles 8 to 29);

– (iii) Protection of public access to French cinematographic and audiovisual works (Articles 30 to 32). Articles 33 to 37 deal with miscellaneous, transitional and final provisions.

Focus on three measures to improve the fight against online piracy

The purpose of this bill is to support “(…) Internet users in their digital practices towards responsible uses, particularly with regard to intellectual property rules” [3].

In addition to the CSA-HADOPI merger, within ARCOM, which is endowed with enhanced powers to characterise copyright infringements, two complementary mechanisms are created.

Firstly, ARCOM is required to draw up and publish a blacklist (expected by rights holders) of massively infringing sites, i.e. “services that seriously and repeatedly infringe copyright or related rights” [4]. At the same time, advertisers, their agents and any person in commercial relations with the services on the said blacklist (either to insert advertisements or to provide means of payment) will be required to mention the existence of these relations annually in order to “ensure that intermediaries – of advertising, means of payment, etc. – no longer work with them” [5]. – This is therefore significant information for the public. This is therefore significant information for the advertising ecosystem, in a perspective of progressive construction of a “follow the money” strategy.

Secondly, emphasis is placed on the fight against mirror sites [6] with the introduction of a specific procedure, which combines both an administrative and a judicial component. It allows right holders to obtain more easily the blocking of a site that reproduces in full or in a substantial manner a site that has already been blocked:

  • Thus, when a court decision that has become final has ordered any measure to prevent access to an online public communication service pursuant to Article L. 336-2, ARCOM, when seized by a rights holder who is a party to the court decision, may ask any person covered by this decision, for a period that may not exceed the time remaining for the measures ordered by the judge, to prevent access to any online public communication service that contains all or a substantial part of the content of the service covered by the decision.

Under the same conditions, ARCOM may also request any search engine, directory or other referencing service operator to stop referencing electronic addresses giving access to these online public communication services.

  • Then, if ARCOM’s referral is not acted upon under the above conditions (a) or if new infringements of copyright or related rights are found (b), the judicial authority may be seized, in summary proceedings or on application, to order any measure intended to stop access to these services. This referral is without prejudice to the referral provided for in Article L. 336-2 of the Intellectual Property Code.

It is known that until now French case law has ordered the blocking of specific lists of infringing sites, but has not accepted to order in advance the blocking of possible mirror sites which are bound to proliferate.

Important provisions specific to the piracy of sports content are provided for to take account of the immediacy of this type of retransmission and to combat the scourge in a more appropriate manner.

An accelerated procedure on the merits or in summary proceedings will make it possible to act, including as a preventive measure, to order any measure against an online communication service whose main objective is the unauthorised broadcasting of sports competitions, infringing the neighbouring right of an audiovisual communication undertaking, or a right acquired exclusively by contract or agreement for the audiovisual exploitation of a sports competition or event. The professional sports leagues and the audiovisual communication company are granted this right to take legal action.

The judge may order measures to prevent broadcasts, for a maximum period of 12 months. This decision may concern sites already identified as well as sites not yet identified at the date of the judge’s decision. The “dynamic” nature of the decision is therefore enshrined here.

Contrary to what was hoped for by the members of the APPS, the legislator has not set a precise deadline for the judge to pronounce the measure once it has been referred to him. That said, the text offers the possibility of referring the matter to the judge not only in the context of an accelerated procedure on the merits but also in the context of a summary procedure, which makes it possible to take into account the temporality of each sporting event or competition.

“II. – The president of the judicial court may, in particular, order, if necessary under penalty, the implementation, for each of the days on the official calendar of the competition or sporting event, within the limit of a period of twelve months, of all proportionate measures, such as blocking, withdrawal or dereferencing measures, to prevent access from French territory to any online public communication service, identified or not identified at the date of the said order, which unlawfully broadcasts the competition or sporting event or whose main objective or one of the main objectives is the unauthorised broadcasting of the competition or sporting event. The measures ordered by the president of the judicial court shall end, for each of the days on the official calendar of the competition or sporting event, at the end of the broadcasting authorised by the holder of the right to exploit that competition or event.”

The text entrusts substantial missions and prerogatives to accompany the measures to ARCOM, the regulatory authority for audiovisual and digital communication.

For the time being, the bill has not yet been published in the Official Journal. As soon as it was adopted by the Assembly, the senators referred it to the Constitutional Council for a ruling on the conformity of certain other provisions of the text with the Constitution [7] – which should rule at the end of October [8] for a planned entry into force on 1 January 2022.

Moreover, anti-piracy legislation is expected to evolve further in the coming weeks, with the examination, on 25 November 2021, of the latest version of the proposed law to modernise the fight against counterfeiting.

The protection of sports programmes is already developed in several neighbouring countries such as the UK and Portugal. In France, we have solid experience in blocking sites based on the application of Article L.336-2 of the Intellectual Property Code [9].

By Anne-Marie Pecoraro for the IP/IT Media Department.

[1] See the legislative file: https://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/dyn/15/dossiers/DLR5L15N42194


[2] Press release of the Committee on Culture, Education and Communication, The Essential on the draft law on the regulation and protection of access to cultural works in the digital age, 5 May 2021.

See: http://www.senat.fr/lessentiel/pjl20-523_1.pdf

[3] Déclaration de Roselyne Bachelot, ministre de la Culture, sur le projet de loi relatif à la régulation et à la protection de l’accès aux œuvres culturelles à l’ère numérique, et la loi organique relative à l’application du cinquième alinéa de l’article 13 de la Constitution, au Sénat le 13 avril 2021.

Voir : https://www.vie-publique.fr/discours/281386-roselyne-bachelot-13042021-oeuvres-culturelles-lere-numerique

[4] See Article 1, 26° of the adopted draft, which provides for the addition of a paragraph 2 entitled “on the characterization of infringements of rights” to the current “Subsection 3: Mission of protection of works and objects to which a copyright or a related right is attached” provided for in Articles L.331-24 to L.331-30 of the Intellectual Property Code.

[5] Marina Alcaraz, La loi sur le piratage a été définitivement votée, Les Echos, 29 September 2021, quoting Pauline Blassel, secretary general of Hadopi.

See: https://www.lesechos.fr/tech-medias/medias/la-loi-sur-le-piratage-a-ete-definitivement-votee-1350587

[6] A mirror site is defined as “a duplicate (exact copy) of a website or web page hosted on a different server than the original site“.

See: https://www.wearecom.fr/dictionnaire/site-miroir/

[7] Article 61 al. 2 of the Constitution: “For the same purposes, laws may be referred to the Constitutional Council, before their promulgation, by (…) sixty deputies or sixty senators”.

[8] Article 61 al. 3 of the Constitution: “(…) the Constitutional Council must rule within one month. However, at the request of the Government, if there is an emergency, this time limit is reduced to eight days. In these cases, the referral to the Constitutional Council suspends the time limit for promulgation”.

[9] 

 See: TGI Paris, 3rd chamber, 4th section, 7 March 2019.

  • See, “New case law will make it easier to block pirate sites”, Contexte, 5 February 2021, https://www.contexte.com/numerique/actualite/126474.html

See: TGI 18 December 2020, n°20/10567

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