by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive
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From kessler Tue Oct 15 11:56:11 1996
Subject: FYI France: Libraries & info control: M.Melot's proposal p.1/2
Two items appear here in this month's FYI France:
1) FYI France Online Service, http://www.fyifrance.com update: 79 new entries since Sep 15, and a new Resource List -- and site licenses!
2) The views of Michel Melot, newly appointed Conservateur Général des Bibliothèques, on the debate raging in France over whether librarians and other "carriers" should be legally liable for Internet information which they "carry" -- Melot's proposal for fixing this -- and a glimpse of the debate which has ensued as a result of his proposal. A fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of a freedom of information system very different from some.
1) FYI France Online Service, http://www.fyifrance.com update: 79 new entries since Sep 15, and a new Resource List -- and site licenses!
Many thanks for the good response to last month's announcement of the new FYI France Online Service. A number of institutions say that they would like site licenses: so pricing for one year will be,
|One user password||US$ 45 ($ 35 until January 1, 1997)|
|One user password||US$ 35 (for 10 users or more)|
|Site license||US$450 ($350 until January 1, 1997)|
Please advise, via email to email@example.com , if you would like a subscription or a site license.
2) "The ISOC-CODE Debate: The point of view of Michel Melot"
by Michel Melot [translation by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org]
[Michel Melot is former head conservateur of the Département des Estampes of the Bibliothèque Nationale, former head of the Bibliothèque Publique d'Information at the Centre Pompidou, and former President of the Conseil Supérieur des Bibliothèques. He just has been named France's Conservateur Général des Bibliothèques. JK.]
I. The position of a librarian
The proposals of the interministerial task force* on the development of the Internet seem to have been welcomed by the professionals who met at the Hôtel de Matignon* on Monday 20 May.
[*The joint task force was formed by the Ministers of Culture and of "la Poste, Télécommunications et l'Espace". *Paris' Hôtel de Matignon houses the national Conseil des Ministres. JK.]
Librarians and documentalists today are considered responsible for the information that they put at the disposal of the public. A library open to the public would not, in other words, distribute information that would contravene the laws of France or the Constitution.
With the Internet it obviously is impossible for them to examine and safeguard all of the accessible information. At the same time, they can be prosecuted for crimes (racism, pedophilia, etc.) committed in fact by those whom they assist in getting online.
They are therefore in the same situation as "common carriers" -- they transmit information, but are not responsible for it -- but the law, as we know, does not make this distinction.
My position supports, therefore, those who currently are being prosecuted.
a) The responsibility has to be taken on. One cannot pretend to believe that a message can be transmitted without human participation (and therefore complicity).
b) Since the law punishes first authors, and distributors only by default, it seems necessary that authors always be identified, so as to avoid any situation in which someone else might be prosecuted "by default".
c) It is not a question of allowing the "censorship" of the Internet in some arbitrary fashion but, rather, of applying to electronic messages the laws already applicable to other media.
d) Legally the frontier between what is allowed and what is forbidden corresponds to that between "private communication" and "public communication". It is true that this distinction becomes difficult with electronic tools. It seems nevertheless that "private" might describe everything which is accessible only to a recipient designated by the producer of the message (a postal address, a telephone number, an email mailbox), and "public" that which is accessible to unidentified correspondants.
Even if this distinction is not relevant (as in the case of collective addresses provided by servers) it would be hypocritical to believe that the Internet can be seen simply as a medium of private communication, comparable to the telephone. The public or private character of communication no longer may be determined by the nature of the media used, nor by the nature of its services (discussion, news... ), but must be defined by the nature of the relationship between the correspondents.
II. The creation of an "observatory"
Since each distributor, or librarian, cannot supervise all of the information placed at the disposition of the public, the existence of an authority of reference, able to designate messages which are objectionable or presumed to be so to me seems necessary, as much from the point of view of the distributors as from that of the users who today have to resort to the courts to attack a service which they believe to be prejudiced against them.
This authority would collect complaints and, after an official legal inquiry to verify their good faith, simply announce its findings about the services in question to the distributors. Each distributor, having been put on notice, then would have the freedom to continue or to suppress these services, a suppression which apparently is technically possible.
This solution presents many advantages. It is said often that it is necessary to defer to international standards. Apart from the fact that this is unrealistic, it is extremely dangerous, because an international moral code does not yet exist, and a nation cannot allow itself to descend to the level of survival of the strongest.
The limits of pornography, for example, or those of the usage of drugs, are quite variable from one country to another; and anti - negationnist laws do not exist everywhere. It is therefore best to act at the national level. But it also is true that a national law would have no effect since the Networks ignore frontiers.
By leaving the responsibility for the distribution with the distributors themselves, country by country, one adopts a non - authoritarian attitude that, at least, "limits the damage" and to which everyone must adapt in taking on his particular responsibilities.
This solution also poses several legal problems.
Is it legally possible that distributors would have to submit to control only "a posteriori", and would not have to worry except in the case in which they diffused information which might later be designated objectionable by the authority of reference? This is what seems just, in this situation, but might it perhaps have some opposite effects? Legal scholars must respond.
What legal agency would have this authority of observation? In my opinion it ought not to have judicial power: one must leave to judges the task of judging. Can it have, however, in certain flagrant cases (but how to define these?) an immediate power to suspend, as there is in "jugements en re'fe're'"*, so as to avoid the too - long delays between the designation of a suspect service and its suppression which would result from leaving things to the good will of the distributors?
[*"order in chambers": an interim judicial order, issued to prevent abuse / injustice while awaiting a formal decision. JK.]
We are speaking, therefore, of an independent instance (and how to assure that independence?), working within the body of French legislation. There is a "bureau of advertising review", an independent office of great value and efficiency, which acts as a sort of "forum of last resort" for determining that which might be fraudulent in an ad. Might this be comparable?
[Next, in Part 2, "identifying the messenger?", and some of the "débat" for which the French are justly famous.]
FYI France: Libraries & info control, M.Melot's proposal p.2/2
[In Part 1, Michel Melot, Conservateur Général des Bibliothèques, outlined his proposal for an "observatory", a quasi - official advisory body which might mitigate some of the more passionate arguments in France over Internet and general library censorship. Here he elaborates a bit more, and the surrounding and ensuing debate is presented.]
III. The identification of messages
One other condition seems to me useful to insure a minimum of police on the Internet: the identification of messages and their authors (and also readers, who all are in a potential "author" position). In addition to this legal application, this identification is demanded insistently by authors themselves, to control the usage of their production, and to protect their rights and possibly their remuneration under their copyright.
It is demanded just as insistently by the librarians and documentalists* who cannot work without clearly authenticating information as they research and redistribute.
[*Non - French readers should note this "librarian" / "documentalist" distinction, which is well - defined in Europe and particularly in France but is not used by many non - European librarians. JK.]
The identity of the addressee can be determined from the URL, as well as the identity of the source. But this is insufficient: the source may be only a mirror -- it is necessary to identify the primary source, and later modifications that the message possibly has received since its first publication.
This task is difficult, but not unrealistic. The problem, one crucial for the international distribution of digital television programming, is in the process of being resolved for images by the "tattoo" of a brief signal, encoded within the total message and undetectable (it runs by every half - second) that allows, in all circumstances, the identification of its owner (ayant - droit*), and of its responsible party (autorité*).
[*"ayant - droit": in French law, "the person owning the right", cf. *"autorité": "the person able to exercise the right". JK.]
Is what is possible for images and for sound also possible for text strings? I leave this question to the specialists; those whom I have consulted have not told me that it is impossible.
The impetus in this area comes primarily, in my opinion, from the financial risks which have induced television producers to accept this norm (included in MPEG 2). In the case of texts, on the one hand financial risks are less, and on the other hand actors are divided. They are not grouped in collective management organs such as the SACEM* or the SCAM*. However, only these collective management groups can achieve and insure the installation of a system of this type at the global level, witness the major role played, for example, in MPEG, by CISAC*, which represents the world's music composers.
May the debate continue.
Michel Melot, conservateur général des bibliothèques
[*SACEM: Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique; *SCAM: Société Civile des Auteurs Multimédias; *CISAC: Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Auteurs et Compositeurs. JK]
And now: the Debate did continue -- selections from what the readers in France said, and how to listen in on or even join the debate --
The above article first appeared on the BIBLIO-FR econference, Biblioemail@example.com, on Wed, 29 May 1996, under the heading "Subject: Debat ISOC-CODE: le point de vue de Michel Melot".
The debate which this issue, and this statement of it, has brought about in France has been extensive and -- like any debate in France -- noisy, although literally moderated in the BIBLIO-FR case by the tireless efforts of the econference moderator, Hervé Le Crosnier. Among the points made by the various combatants:
"'I see libraries as fortresses of the freedom of expression"... the librarian must always stay ahead of the laws..."
"...a mathematician would find that the total absence of organization is already a form of regulation... a social scientist would think that the Internet is a good place to test entirely new forms of organization and regulation, which intertwine deontology, debate, and the rule of law."
Readers who wish to see the entire ISOC - Code / Melot debate in full,
as it developed after Melot's original posting -- these are old issues,
after all, albeit now with a new technological twist -- may do so
easily via the exemplary archival management system available for
BIBLIO-FR, among other econferences, at,
You also might want to see the remarkable site to which Melot himself
originally posted his remarks, an ongoing discussion forum sponsored and
archived very interestingly by the France chapter of the Internet Society
-- I believe by the chapter's President Bruno Mannoni [correction Feb 18
1997: the chapter president is Bruno Oudet -- Bruno Mannoni is a member of
its administrative council. JK.] -- at,
ISOC-France ran a debate there which you can read, opinion - by - opinion and blow - by - blow, entitled "For a Code of Good Conduct on the Internet?: The Debate!", and a topic, "What self - censorship mechanisms should be developed for the Internet?" with comments like,
"There is no electronic filter which can separate truth from fiction.. We have only one tool available: critical thinking. This fact applies to the Internet as it does to all other communications media..." [tr. by JK from a French translation of a statement made originally, I think elsewhere and in l'américain, by someone named V. Cerf.]
"There already is legislation in existence for audiovisual communication. This law requires a Web site to file a declaration, prior to the opening of a service, with the Procureur de la République du TGI... This law, conceived originally for Minitel services, fits the Web perfectly. I do not understand why people are trying to make the public believe that there is no such registration law for Web services..."
"Must we create an official government Agency of the Internet? I wouldn't do this. Let's not make a new bureaucracy, let's stay in the realm of the 'virtual', the realm of the cooperation which is so easy on the Nets..."
"... you have to remember that the Internet is not a homogeneous and continuous space: the Internet is a network of interconnected networks; some of these networks have a specific vocation -- such as the R&D networks in France -- and can be the object of specific regulations which the authority in charge of the network can decree: traffic restriction, control of access or of certain sites, etc...."
"If the vehicle is personal (the general public's point of entry to the Internet), the first place to look is to the producer of a document. But if we are speaking of a professional vehicle (points of entry for the professions, in either the public or private sector), the first place to look is to some person in authority..."
and also -- this is France --
"The Internet is a place of liberty too precious to be left to governments..."
"How can one think of restraining an invention which permits the sending of 50 million love - notes in a few seconds?"
FYIFrance (sm)(tm) e - newsletter ISSN 1071 - 5916 * | FYIFrance (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic newsletter, | published since 1992 as a small - scale, personal, | experiment, in the creation of large - scale | "information overload", by Jack Kessler. Any material / \ written by me which appears in FYIFrance may be ----- copied and used by anyone for any good purpose, so // \\ long as, a) they give me credit and show my e - mail --------- address and, b) it isn't going to make them money: if // \\ if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives are at http://infolib.berkeley.edu (search for FYIFrance), or via gopher to infolib.berkeley.edu 72 (path: 3. Electronic Journals (Library-Oriented)/ 6. FYIFrance/ , or http://www.univ-rennes1.fr/LISTESfirstname.lastname@example.org/ (BIBLIO-FR econference archive), or via telnet to a.cni.org , login brsuser (PACS / PACS-L econference archive), or at http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison - pen letters all will be gratefully received at email@example.com . Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.
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