Rule of Law part one

Le proces de Guillermito pour contrefaçon de logiciel. Pour une excellente collection de liens en français, voir chez Laurent.

The new year started with a bang#[1]: Steph is visiting Paris. The more common tourist attractions aren’t good enough for this Anglo-Swiss star of the francophone blogosphere, so after lunch and some pleasant conversation, we went to a criminal trial. Not any old trial, of course, but Guillermito’s.

French blogs are talking about the case all over the Internet, but there is little good information in English.#[2] In short, Guillermito is a French molecular biologist who works on plant immunity at Harvard. As a hobby, he is interested in computer security. For his critique (fr) of the anti-virus program Viguard, he has been charged with what it is misleadingly translated as “counterfeiting” works protected by intellectual property law: a better translation is, I think, criminal copyright infringement.

It was the first time I’ve been to a trial, and of course Guillermito’s case (being the most complex of that afternoon’s lot) came last. Which is why I got to see, hear and learn a ton of interesting bits:

  • The public toilets at the Paris Palais de Justice are in an acceptable but not great state of cleanliness even in the mid-afternoon. To get there, you need to find the courtyard with the Saint Chapelle in the middle. The facilities you need are right below. (And if you’re confused now, this map of the premises will sort it all out; there are bad pop-up photos if you mouse over it.)
  • All those lawyerly professions are much more interesting than I used to think. You get to externalise your aggressive tendencies, accuse, even insult (within limits), do a spot of discourse analysis if you feel like it, be gentle … in short, play a role, but without anyone expecting any artistic value from your performance.
  • The prosecutor was particularly impressive: a massive man with a booming voice, who kept bunching up his robes, gesticulating, lecturing; he would have made a formidable headmaster, too (I had some flashbacks to my teaching experiences).
  • A beautiful painting of a wan, reclining Justitia in a flowing grey-blue dress, a heavy tome on her knees, her scales dangling from a tired hand, the other one being in constant danger of receiving a nasty cut from her sword, was looking resignedly down on the prosecutor from behind the judges. I understood most of the symbolism on the ceiling, except the hand mirror with a snake winding around its handle, all on a background of oak leaves.
  • After reading Eolas’s excellent introduction (fr), I expected the proceedings to resemble a church service. And they do: the hard benches, the handsome wood panelling, paintings, and beautiful ceiling, and above all the routinised solemnity taken as a matter of course. Still, all the getting up and sitting down business is much less dynamic than what a congregation manages to do, and in church, the public isn’t carefully observed by a police officer, who doesn’t hesitate to scold anyone who does something they shouldn’t.
  • Oh, yes, that police officer. I managed to attract his attention and was reprimanded for reading Bourdieu’s Langage et pouvoir symbolique on my knees. It had been a desperate attempt to stay awake during a particularly tedious case about the relationships between employers, employees, self-employed contractors and the office that collects social contributions (unemployment, medical and other insurance fees) from the first for the second but not for the third. Lawyers, on the other hand, get to sit on benches that are hidden from view by high backs and armrests, so they can do all kinds of stuff without anyone objecting.
  • Be prepared (fr) and ask at the information desk if in doubt. We (Steph, Michel and I) were and did, but a gaggle of geeks (a giggle?) hadn’t realized that “our” court had temporarily swapped court rooms with another one, which is currently hearing a case that requires a bigger dock that can hold 6 defendants at once. So they found themselves looking at a handful of suspected islamist terrorists instead of one poor hacker. (The terrorism case, though quite well publicised in the French press, appears to be of little interest to the general public. I was happy to confirm to one of the lost geeks that the logo “ABC” that one of said geeks saw on a TV camera does, indeed, belong to an American network. More on that other case in the NYT and in the Age, here and here.)
  • The sentence you risk if you sell a car without telling the buyer that a) it was repaired from the bottom up after a big accident, and b) during the repair, the broken km counter was exchanged for one that showed 17,000 km less than the car had actually run, even if the buyer manages to re-sell the car for the same price they paid you, is not substantially lower than if you are a butcher whose premises are in such a bad state that you might well poison your entire clientèle (I’ll pass on the nauseating details involving deadly bacteria and dozens of kg of rotting meat ready to go into sausages).
  • Courtroom N° 10 sits about 40 members of the public. I’d say there were about 50 Guillermito-supporters present, mostly bloggers and computer security specialists. Everyone was on their best behaviour (well, we tried). I hope Mr Peer’s feet have recovered. I was also happy to see neuro` again and was honoured to meet Veuve Tarquine, who is particularly charming, a lawyer and a blogger#[3]. She stopped long enough in-between zipping at lightning speed from one end of the Palais to the other to give us poor ignorants brief historical overviews and valuable pointers. And Guillermito himself, of course, who is adorable and articulate, dispensed buckets of patience to make the technical stuff as accessible to the court as possible, and left an excellent impression, I think.

Then, finally, Guillermito was called. My notes and impressions of his trial are covered in the second part.

[1]: Well, actually it doesn’t. I’m still slow and tired, and the number of drafts I never seem to be able to finish or posts I want to write but can’t seem to manage is growing. Anyway. A very happy, healthy, fruitful and satisfying New Year to all friends and readers of ˌser.ənˈdɪp.ɪ.ti! [2]: Guillermito has written a short summary in English. There is also a Slashdot thread about the case, but I find most of it more misleading than helpful. [3]: Each segment of the blogosphere has its strengths and weak points. In France, there is an astonishing number of fabulous law blogs.

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