Geert Lovink on Thu, 5 Jun 1997 10:43:04 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> chris: France is jumping in the bandwagon (suite)

>From Wed Jun  4 22:19:12 1997
Subject: Re: France suite

France is jumping in the bandwagon (suite)

Since my last/first mail, some dark zones lit up, or went darker depending
from where you observe them.
First the Mygale story (a university server freely hosting 6000 websites
(personnal, associations, semi-commercial etc...).
Not that the case is fundamental in itself, but it reveals a lot about the
french ploutocracy. I guess there are similar and worse stories in other
places, but let me tell you what we finally learnt about the "pourquoi and
comment"  of it.
This server was run by a student who opened it one year ago, as the object
of his thesis. It grew very fast, so fast that it began to appear to
certain people as a very lucrative bizness. Specially to one guy who made a
fortune in Minitel (sex-chats and others). He made an offer to buy Mygale.
No thanks was the answer. So, he decided to use his influences to put
pressure on some non less influent friends such as some National Education
top-employees, who put the pressure on the director of Renater (french
research and university net), who himself put the pressure on the director
of the University. Threatened of having his credits severely reduced in 98,
the poor director had no other choice but shutting down Mygale. Under the
pretext of voraciously absorbing too much bandwidth, Mygale was given two
days to move away with its 6000 sites. One week after, its screen was
blacked out, and the staff discovered that the Minitel guy had pattented
their name - Mygale. Annoyed by this bad publicity, the Ministery of
Education reacted quickly and within a few days, Havas On line (a private
Internet provider) officially proposed to host Mygale for free (in exchange
of some advertising on the home page). The francophone front line can be
thankfull to Havas and know they should better not wait for anything from
the french institutions eventhough these ones have the mouth full of
protectionist linguistic good-wishes.

Another much more meaningful ongoing story is the Beaussant Report
(presented to the Prime Minister and government repesentatives last april).
Antoine Beaussant, president of the GESTE (Group of Telematic Services
Publishers) also wellknown for its fortune made with hot-Minitel lines (his
company owns 17O Minitel services among which 36 15Irma, 36 15 Sexe etc,
etc), was charged by the Ministery of Space and Telecommunications, to
elaborate " a good behavior national code which would set an exemple and
nourish the international reflection", therefore instituting a "volontary"
action from the professionals.

The result is the "Internet Charter" proposing to institute the "Internet
Council", an independant entity for autoregulation and mediation.
Responsible for the evolution of the Charter itself, the Council members
(called Actors of Internet that is infrastruture, services and content
providers) signing the Charter engage themselves to :
-promote the Charter
- use contracts referring to the Charter
- link on the charter web site
- get their e-mail daily for whatever purpose it may serve to the Charter

Actors publishing a content are under obligation of identifying through an
e-mail adress, and all legal and social mentions concerning companies and
moral persons.

Following claims (the Council can also auto-seized itself) about obviously
illicits contents or actions (defined as "contrary to public order, and
mainly pedophily, incitement to racial hate, negationism, call for murder,
prostitution and drugs traficking, and attempts against national security")
the Internet Council will inform "the author or the person responsible for
the Web site" and recommand him to modify or suppress it. If the author or
the person responsible for the Web site does not react in a reasonable
delay, the Council will emit an Advice towards the technical providers, in
order to suppress or blockade the access. The providers will have to
provide information and explanations on the relative-actions back to the
Concerning "sensible" contents, the Actors have to provide their customers
with the available PICS software. The Providers of pornographic and violent
contents have to identify their contents using the same standard tools.

Other chapters of the Charter concern :
-Human dignity (only referring to application of the law)
- Fondamental rights and liberties (vouching for privacy of personal
correspondence, protection of the user'sanonymity - except for codes, dates
an hours of connection -, and application of the law regarding automatic
filing of nominal informations).
- Intellectual property rights (referring to the actual laws but
mentionning that the Content provider should clear the necessary rights,
and ISPs should include this clause in their contract.
- Consumers' rights (obligatory mentions of product or service's
caracteristics, price and taxes, conditions of sale, legal informations on
the vendor. Also Actors should look for means to protect " the consumers
who explicitly ask for it" against e-mail advertising.

The main arguments opposed to the Charter are :
- it is not representative of Internet users (in all the meanings of the term).
 The Beaussant commission counts only 16 service providers and 28 content
providers (mainly industrials and media) for 2O representatives of the
institutions, and 46 jurists and lawers
- the Council pretends to be acting upstream of justice, as a conciliation
and "autoregulation" authority, but claims for legal ratification of its
actions resulting from a non-conciliation (blockade, data suppression).
Such actions can only be the fact of a legal authority, after the regular
law-suits determined by the french law.
- Hence it says that only members subscribing to the Charter will have to
follow its rule, it is obvious that the intention is to "institutionalized"
the Charter (as the BVP - Surveillance Bureau for advertising - the CNIL
(National Commission Computer and Liberty or audivisual's High Authority
have been in the past)
- the Council poses  as both a censor (legitimized by the concensus of the
so-called Actors) and a surveillance authority asking for identification.
Again it is not the scope of a civil association to deal with such control
- evoking the poverty of Internet Actors, the Council is asking for public
fundings, which of course will subordinate its decisions on
politically-sensible cases to the instutionnal pressure.

Some discussions on an eventual petition or actions lead by "Internet
users" opposing this Charter are going on. But nothing has emerged until

Finally, there is another worth mentionning law-case going on in France
opposing UEJF (Union des Etudiants juifs de France) to Jean Louis Costes
and Altern B. Altern B, which was the first Net access through Minitel in
France before France Telecom allowed Internet to land), is hosting both
commercial services and some alternative and humanitarian associations and
artists. About one month ago, the administrator got phone calls from the
Union of jewish students (UEJF) and LICRA (Ligue against Racism) asking him
to remove an artist's site - Jean Louis Costes- from his server. Motives
invoked were racism and nazi connotation of some of his song' lyrics.

Considering that Costes is a trash performer, and as such uses any tabous
and symbols to spew on conformism and consensus, Altern refused and tried
to convince the lawers that all this was a misundertsanding, and they
probably had some absolutely more serious and urgent anti-fascist
statements to attack at the moment. LICRA dropped the case, but UEJF
decided to maintain its claim and sent a subpoena last week to Altern and

Reading the subpoena makes their point quite clear : what they are
attacking is not the words of Costes per se, but the fact that they are
published on the Net. Referring to the Beaussant' Internet Charter as if it
was an actual authority- which it is not - they ask for censorship to be
applied to "obviously illicit" contents  as it is in other mass media. UEJF
already took legal action against ISPs about two years ago, because they
were providing access to neo-nazis contents through the web. They lost the
trial. This case is a bit different in the sense that the attacked contents
are on Altern hard-drives. They consider Altern not only to be the provider
but the publisher of these "illicit content" and as such should be held
responsible for them. In any case, if the court decides to refer to the
European Pradier report, voted in mid-april, and more specifically to the
article 35, one can await the worst issue. This article states that
"information providers should clearly identify the emitter", while access
and services providers should : - regarding contents which they give
access to, totally assume the responsability, including penal.
- regarding illicite contents from external services, assume the
responsabilitty of it when they are positively aware of their concrete
content, and are awaited to prevent their use, if they have the necessary
technical means.

The trial is scheduled on june 11th under the jurisdiction of the First
Chamber. No media campaign has been undertook by the attacked party.
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