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France is set to introduce the world’s most draconian laws against internet piracy, after parliamentarians voted on Tuesday to give the government powers to cut off offenders’ internet access.
The controversial draft law would create an agency to police illegal downloading of copyright material. The bill still has to be voted on by the Senate but is widely expected to be approved in a final vote on Wednesday
Internet users who download films and music without paying for them would get three warnings before being cut off for up to a year. Until now action against illegal file sharing has been a matter for the French courts.
Lawyers say France’s move to cut the courts out of the issue of internet access may contravene the European Convention of Human Rights and could spark conflict with Brussels. Long awaited reform of EU telecoms regulation has been held up by disagreements over whether the courts should be involved.
“The European Parliament has taken a tough stance on this, and in my understanding it will not move from the position that only the judiciary can take the decision to cut off the customer,” said Dirk van Liedekerke, a partner at Olswang in Brussels.
Consumer groups said the creation of a non-judicial body with the power to police the internet would threaten civil liberties.
Jérémie Zimmermann, director of La Quadrature du Net, a French internet advocacy group, said: “This is very harmful to the neutrality of the net. But [French president Nicolas] Sarkozy has already showed that he is willing to sit on the fundamental principles of European law.”
The bill was voted down last month when it first came before the National Assembly, because not enough deputies from the ruling UMP party turned up.
On Tuesday Mr Sarkozy ordered all UMP deputies to attend the vote. It was passed by 296 votes to 233.
UK media organisations called for similar anti-piracy laws. But the French initiative could face legal challenges from those who have their internet access cut off by the new agency, Mr Van Liedekerke said.
The bill, drawn up by Denis Olivennes, the chairman of Fnac, one of France’s leading DVD and CD retailers, is supported by Hollywood studios, music labels and some artists, who see illegal downloads as the biggest threat to their businesses.
The French crackdown on internet piracy is the latest in a string of disputes with Brussels, over issues ranging from subsidised energy prices to a bailout package for the motor industry.
PARIS (AP) -- France's Senate has given final approval to a law that would punish people who download music and films illegally by cutting off their Internet connections. The law creates what could be the world's first government agency to punish online pirates. The 189-14 vote Wednesday followed approval Tuesday by the lower chamber.