France passes controversial antipiracy bill

The bill would suspend Internet service for people caught illegally sharing copyrighted material. That's in opposition to a Europea Parliment measure.
Written by Marguerite Reardon, Contributor
The French National Assembly ignored a vote last week by the European Parliament and approved its "Creation et Internet" three-strikes bill on Tuesday.

The measure supported by French President Nicolas Sarkozy punishes digital pirates by suspending Internet service if they are caught illegally sharing copyrighted material. The vote comes a little more than a month after the same government body rejected the proposal.

It seems the vote by the French Assembly is in direct opposition to the European Parliament, which last week passed a measure prohibiting EU governments from terminating a user's Internet access without a court order. The European Parliament also adopted an amendment that said, "Internet access is a fundamental right such as the freedom of expression and the freedom to access information."

The bill passed in France's National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament, by a narrow margin of 296 to 233. The legislation essentially creates a new government agency known as HADOPI (the Haute Autorit? pour la Diffusion des Oeuvres et la Protection des droits sur Internet), which will be tasked with sending notices to illegal file sharers.

The way it would work is that suspected offenders would receive two warnings about their illegal activities and on the third suspected offense, their Internet access would be cut off for anywhere from two months to a year. Users will also be put on a "three-strikes" blacklist so that they can't sign up for service from another ISP.

The legislation has proven to be quite controversial in France and throughout the world. It is considered one of the most aggressive digital antipiracy regulations out there, which has helped it win the support of the music and movie industries.

But consumer and free speech advocates have opposed the passage of such legislation, arguing that it denies accused Internet pirates the right to challenge the government's charges in court. Opponents of the legislation also fear that it will pave the way for governments to violate its citizens' personal privacy rights.

The bill had been expected to pass the General Assembly in France in early April, but Socialists, who opposed the measure, rallied at the last moment, and surprisingly defeated the measure.

It was reintroduced to the assembly in late April and was debated and discussed until the vote Tuesday.

Even though the entertainment industry for years has lobbied for more active policing of the Internet, France is one of the only countries to put together such stringent legislation. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, have not introduced strict legislation yet, but instead are encouraging partnerships between ISPs and the entertainment industry to fight piracy.

At least one major ISP in the U.S., AT&T, has already agreed to work with the music industry by sending notices to consumers suspected of illegally distributing copyrighted content. And in the U.K., ISPs have agreed to help the entertainment industry fight piracy in lieu of new legislation.

But other countries, such as Sweden are also taking a heavy handed approach to fighting digital piracy. France's strict piracy legislation comes less than a month after a Swedish court found the founders of the peer-to-peer site The Pirate Bay guilty of infringing copyright. The four defendants were each sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay 30 million Swedish kronor ($3.6 million) in damages to copyright holders. The Pirate Bay has already been mentioned as one of the sites that could be easily taken out under the new French law.

This article was originally posted on CNET News.

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