The French government is throwing its muscle behind a mission to fight illegal downloading.

Newly-elected President Sarkozy ordered the initiative in early August as part of a global plan to "save the music industry" and support the legal online business for music and movies.

Plans were detailed in a press conference held yesterday in Paris, hosted by French minister of economy Christine Lagarde, minister of culture Christine Albanel and Denis Olivennes, CEO of French leading entertainment retailer FNAC, who has been appointed to head the mission.

"We need to act against the theft of creative works before it is too late", asserted Albanel, noting that a billion music and movie files were illegally shared in France in 2006.

Olivennes has called upon support from three high-level consultants in economist Olivier Bomsel, telecom expert Pascal Faure and Internet rights expert Isabelle Falque-Perrotin.

Olivennes said he intended to gather entertainment producers and copyright holders plus Internet access providers, with the aim to present a series of proposals by mid-November.

"The goal is not to discover one universal solution, but to find some practical measures that will allow significant progress [on the growth of a legal digital market]."

In accordance with Sarkozy's wish, Olivennes will work along three lines: fighting against piracy, helping drive growth of a diversified legal offer, and allowing the industry to adapt its structures and economic models.

While the French government has already initiated similar actions to support the music digital market, Olivennes said current circumstances were favorable "as people's minds have changed."

Albanel stated that the contentious concept of global license, which had been intensely debated in France during the vote of the copyright law in 2006, was not under discussion. "The global license was considered dangerous and ineffective," she said. "Our starting point is that piracy is just unacceptable."

The French recorded music market has lost almost 40% in value between 2002 and 2006, according to labels body SNEP. The digital market -- including ringtones -- dropped 2.3% in value year-on-year in Q1 2007, and now accounts for 6.4% of the recorded music market.