French Report – Legal Punishment for Filesharing as Severe as Manslaughter

One of the criticisms of copyright laws has, for some time, been that the punishment is far too severe for the crime being committed. This debate is nothing new and it seems to be heating up in Europe right now. One French news site decided to compare the penalties of file-sharing to the penalties of other offenses. The results? They are a little scary.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The report comes from Numerama which was inspired by a recent conviction in Sweden. They asked, if someone could be put in jail for 3 years for file-sharing, what other crimes could someone commit and get either an equal sentence or less? They said (Google translated, original) said that the answers pretty much speak for themselves and I, for one, completely agree. Two things to keep in mind: this is all about French law and the laws are sourced nicely (job well done to Numerama in that department for sure). Here are some of the offenses that could earn you a jail sentence similar to that if you were convicted of copyright infringement on a file-sharing network:

– Manslaughter
– Repeatedly sending death threats on a transfixed medium
– Conducting biomedical procedures on someone without the consent of the patient
– Theft
– Breach of trust
– Some forms of obstruction of justice

Here are some of the offenses that could land you in jail for less time:

– Sexual exhibition in a public place
– Harassment in order to obtain sexual favors
– The desecration of a corpse in a cemetery/attacking a corpse
– Third party identity theft (note: this wasn’t entirely clear in the translation, but we are presuming that the translation meant “third party” since it simply says “by a third”)
– The abandonment of a child/infant
– Making sexual advances to a minor whether electronically or otherwise (if the minor is 15 years old or younger)
– Destruction of other people’s property
– Serious offenses related to animal abuse

I’m looking through this and I really wonder what is wrong with a legal system that says that if you are caught sharing copyrighted works, you could get a sentence as long as someone who killed someone. I personally can’t see how it should be possible in the first place.

Still, this has always been an extremely effective way of showing just how extreme the penalties have become for something so trivial as someone having a copyrighted work in their shared directory. I’m a music producer myself and I have always been all for the sharing of my works online for free. I think that even if I were hardcore all for copyright, I would have a hard time, at the very least, trying to explain to the public why someone who made sexual advances to a minor should serve less time than someone who is uploading an album on the Gnutella network. The thing is that with a lot of these offenses in the list are offenses where people are being directly harmed. For me, I don’t think anyone could make a convincing case that file-sharing is a crime that is as bad as killing someone.

Such comparisons have been made before. One great example in the US was looking at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – the largest oil spill in US history. According to one report, BP was facing a $21 Billion fine. Looking at the damages for infringement one can find out that the BP fine presented in that particular report can be the equivalent to downloading 140,000 songs or 70,000 songs in the case of willful infringement.

In any event, I think for French people, this really does put into perspective how high the penalties are for infringement. The day we start placing intellectual property on a higher level of value than life itself is the day I think society needs to seriously re-look at our values.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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