Nation's third largest ISP stands up to music industry and government demands

A French internet provider by the name of Free says it will defy a nationwide edict to filter subscribers’ service for P2P content, according to French publication 01net (English), should such a law come to pass.

The company’s refusal seems openly aimed at a countrywide initiative to filter out “unlawful” internet content, shepherded chiefly by French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and the European media lobby.

Notably, the bill in question – a comprehensive, Europe-wide telecom reform package – has since had its mandatory filtering sections removed. In their place, however, is a concept of “lawful content”, which leaves enforcement up to individual member states.

Xavier Niel, who is the founder and majority shareholder of Free, says the filtering initiative slashes individual liberties in favor of payments to a few artists who “earn a lot of money.”

Piracy is important, says Niel says, but he favors a “global license” initiative instead, in which the government monitors and taxes and P2P activity – with proceeds distributed directly to artists.

Free is the third largest ISP in France behind Orange and Neuf Cegetel, with more than 15 million subscribers to both free and paid broadband plans.

P2P aficionados in France face a particularly difficult uphill battle, as the country’s legislature is facing heavy pressure from both leadership and media interests to put a curb on its citizens’ P2P activities. Regarding the country’s (in)famous “three strikes” plan, which was signed into law last June, a number of European media sources have noted that much of figurehead Sarkozy’s inspiration and drive against filesharers is attributable to his marriage to Italian model and folk singer Carla Bruni.

Ars Technica notes that the “three strikes” plan is now known as “graduated reform” and enjoys heavyweight, global support from music industry organizations like the IFPI.

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