France: Nonprofits Sue ISPs, Demand ‘Block’ of Adult Sites

PARIS — Two French nonprofits claiming to advocate for child protection are suing the main internet service providers in France, demanding total blocking of several adult sites that they consider “too accessible to minors.”

The organizations’ lawyer, Laurent Bayon, announced the lawsuit to French newspaper Le Figaro today.

The lawsuit demonstrates the French anti-porn groups’ determination to restrict access to adult content in that European market. Earlier this year, supporters of France’s controversial age-verification law claimed that they knew it was impractical and considered the passage of the measure to be “symbolic.”

The groups suing top French ISPs SFR, Orange, Bouygues Télécom, Free, Colt Technologies Services and Outre mer Télécomare are called e-Enfance (“e-Childhood”) and La Voix de l’Enfant (The Voice of the Child).

The ISPs were asked to appear next Thursday, September 9, in front of the Paris Judicial Court.

‘We Demand the Blockage’

e-Enfance and La Voix de l’Enfant believe that sites such as Pornhub, TuKif, XNXX, xHamster, XVideos, Redtube and YouPorn “make the pornographic content accessible to minors and do not verify the age of those browsing or they merely make them check a box stating they are over 18,” the lawyer said.

“Today, there are technical solutions that protect private life,” Bayon continued. “We demand that the court order the ISPs the blockage of sites that expose minors to pornographic content.” 

“The companies that maintain these sites,” the lawyer claimed, “are opaque and almost untouchable because of their mode of organization, often based in tax shelters. My clients will try to ‘fix the pipes to shut down this faucet.’”

A rep for Orange told Le Figaro that the ISP will “abide by the decision of the court and would shut down these sites speedily if that’s what we are asked to do. But in the absence of a judicial decision, we apply the rules of net neutrality and freedom of expression.”

Online Porn Regulated by Controversial ‘Domestic Abuse’ Law

Back in March, as XBIZ reported, the seven top adult websites in France were actively pressured by the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA) — the country’s media regulatory agency roughly equivalent to the FCC — to develop their own age-verification systems under threat of closure.

In February, the CSA sent a letter to Pornhub.com, xHamster.com, XVideos.com, XNXX.com, TuKif.com, JacquieEtMichel.net, JacquieEtMicheltv.net and JacquieEtMicheltv2.net demanding activation of “an age-verification system” by March 16.

According to a statement produced at the time by WGCZ, owner of leading European tube site XVideos, “last summer, a law about domestic violence was amended with two articles concerning the distribution of pornography online. It imposes age verification on the users.”

That amendment, the statement continued, was adopted by an atypical “accelerated procedure” with a very small number of legislators present, following an initiative by President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

The WGCZ statement pointed out that less than 10% of “députés” (representatives) were present during the vote and that none of the legislators were asked about the law’s consequences or the method of age verification to be employed.

“If you ask yourself, as we do, what does pornography have to do with domestic violence, you’d be given this explanation: people can be induced to see and then reproduce ‘violent’ sexual practices seen online.”

The amendment, Article 23 of the domestic violence law, gives the president of the CSA the power to send a formal notice to any company or person “whose online activity allows minors to have access to pornographic content,” according to a report by Paris daily Le Parisien.

“The addressee of the injunction then has fifteen days ‘to present his observations’ in order to comply with the law,” Le Parisien reported. “If nothing is done after this period, then the president of the CSA can call the ‘president of the judicial tribunal of Paris’ to issue a judicial order to [the companies] that they ‘put an end to the access to this service.’ The offender risks three years imprisonment and a fine of €75,000. The amount is multiplied by five for companies — and this is the case here: a fine of €375,000.”

French legal experts also mentioned an intermediate step before total shutdown: having the CSA and a judge ask search engines to “dereference” or “deprioritize” the seven websites so they no longer appear in search results.

Anti-Porn Groups Not Satisfied With ‘Symbolic’ Win

French legal experts also said that the law would encounter constitutional difficulties.

“It is a law that is hard to apply technically and it transfers a good part of the parental control responsibility to content hosts and adult-only websites,” tech attorney Claire Poirson told the daily. “The targeted site can also appeal against the judge’s order and his lawyers can ask a priority question of constitutionality to check the legitimacy of this legislative provision.”

The widespread availability of VPN services also renders many proposed AV systems ineffective or obsolete.

One of the supporters of the amendment, Thomas Rohmer, admitted to Le Parisien earlier this year that, “of course teens are going to install VPNs.” But he considered the objective of his crusade as achieved because the teens “will know that it is illegal and that adults have put in place means of protection to tell them about it.”

“It is symbolic,” Rohmer added.

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