French parliament adopts internet piracy bill
France has passed a new bill to stop illegal downloading by cutting of offenders internet access for a year.Paris – French lawmakers on Tuesday adopted a tough bill to combat Internet piracy by cutting off the web to illegal downloaders, after one of the sharpest debates of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency.
The National Assembly, dominated by Sarkozy's right-wing party, passed the bill by a vote of 296 to 233 and the measure was set to go before the Senate for final approval on Wednesday.
The legislation, described as one of the toughest ever drafted against Internet piracy around the world, would punish those who pirate music and film by shutting down their Internet access for up to a year.
The bill enjoys broad support from the music and film industry in France and abroad, but consumer groups and the Socialist opposition have warned it will be difficult to implement.
"Even if Internet access was a basic right, it must be reconciled with other fundamental rights and respect for intellectual property is one of those," said Philippe Gosselin, a deputy from the governing UMP party.
Under the bill, a state agency known by the acronym Hadopi will be set up to track and punish those who pirate music and movies on the Internet, serving as a go-between for content providers and Internet service providers.
It will set up a "three-strikes" system for offenders who first receive an email warning, then a letter and finally lose their Internet account for up to a year if they are caught a third time.
Socialist deputy Patrick Bloche, who voted against the bill, called it a "law of intimidation" that amounted to "a lose-lose situation for artists and for Internet users."
The Socialist opposition has said it plans to ask the Constitutional Council, France's highest authority, to rule on the legality of the law.
The European parliament also threw up a hurdle last week after it approved an amendment to a wide-ranging telecoms package saying that the basic rights of Internet users cannot be restricted without a court order.
Supporters hope the bill will wean web users away from pirated films and music, and towards fledgling legal download sites.
More than 10,000 French filmmakers and musicians, from Johnny Hallyday to Catherine Deneuve, have signed a petition backing the bill while the Directors Guild of America has thrown its weight behind the measure.
"Online piracy is among the greatest threats to the health and future of the creative industries," said Michael Apted, president of the 14,000-strong Directors Guild of America.
"The French model is remarkable because it creates a solution that enforces the idea that piracy is serious, while avoiding unfair punitive or financial measures and the quagmire of endless lawsuits," Apted said last month.
Sarkozy and model-turned-singer first lady Carla Bruni, who released her third album last year, invited a select group of 60 singers and filmmakers at the Elysee palace last month to shore up the campaign for the bill's adoption.
A first draft was rejected in early April, in a surprise defeat for Sarkozy when many members of his party failed to turn up for the vote at the 577-member lower house.
A new slightly amended version was re-submitted two weeks ago.
Consumer groups say the bill is unnecessarily harsh on downloaders who would have to continue paying their Internet subscription fees after they are cut off.
Downloaders will be able to easily avoid tracking through a new generation of streaming sites, opponents say.
Once approved, the first Internet cutoffs could be decided early next year, according to legislative rapporteur Franck Riester.
Similar plans in New Zealand were derailed by protests earlier this year, and several European countries including Britain, Germany and Sweden have decided against cut-off measures.
In the United States, the record industry has enlisted Internet service providers to help root out piracy, with providers sending out warning letters to illegal downloaders, but reports suggest only a handful have been banned.
AFP / Expatica