Illegal downloaders face web ban in France

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A bill that will allow authorities to cut illegal downloaders off from the worldwide web was approved on Tuesday by French lawmakers.

PARIS - One of the toughest ever drafted in the global fight against Internet piracy, the bill has drawn attention from across the world as countries debate how to deal with the illegal downloading of films, music and computer games.

The revamped bill passed through France's National Assembly after 285 deputies backed it, with 225 voting against, most of them from the main opposition Socialist party.

It will now go to a parliamentary commission before a final vote by both senators and deputies -- expected to be a formality -- before the legislation is definitively adopted.

The Socialists however said they would again appeal to the Constitutional Council to have it blocked.

The original bill enjoyed broad support from the music and film industry in France and abroad, but was opposed by consumer groups, the Internet industry and the left-wing opposition.

Championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy and singer-turned-first lady Carla Bruni, the original anti-piracy law was adopted in May after a stormy parliament battle, but was blocked in June by France's top legal authority.

The Constitutional Council objected to a key provision, which gave a new state agency, known by the acronym Hadopi, the power to shut down web access for up to a year for those who download music and films illegally.

Opponents said it failed to give alleged pirates enough recourse to challenge accusations and argued that web innovations would make it possible for illegal downloaders to avoid detection.

The new bill shifts the final decision on cutting off web users from the state agency to the courts.

On the third strike, a judge would hand down an Internet ban or -- as was possible under existing but rarely applied legislation -- impose a fine of up to 300,000 euros (415,000 dollars) or a two-year jail sentence.

Account holders found guilty of "negligence" for allowing a third party to pirate music or films using their web connection, would risk a 1,500-euro fine and a month-long suspension.

Opposition lawmakers have complained that the reworked bill still gives web users too little opportunity to challenge piracy accusations.

In Sweden, a similar law, which was closely monitored by France, has led to a sharp drop in illegal downloading although critics predict the effects will be short-lived and argue it is an excessive breach of personal privacy.

 AFP/E xpatica

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