French parliament approves disputed download law

PARIS Tue Sep 22, 2009 9:53pm IST

France's Culture Minister Christine Albanel sits in the minister's benches at the National Assembly in Paris May 12, 2009, during the vote on a law to prohibit internet piracy. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

France's Culture Minister Christine Albanel sits in the minister's benches at the National Assembly in Paris May 12, 2009, during the vote on a law to prohibit internet piracy.

Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau

PARIS (Reuters) - France's disputed Internet piracy law, which will allow authorities to disconnect repeat illegal downloaders, was finally approved in parliament on Tuesday but the opposition immediately announced a fresh court challenge.

The bill, revised after France's top constitutional court overturned an earlier version voted in June, cleared its last parliamentary hurdle when it was passed in the joint legislative committee of the two houses by 258 votes to 131.

The opposition Socialists, who took the previous version of the so-called "Hadopi" law to the constitutional court, said they would mount a second challenge.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has thrown his weight behind the law and has been backed by the recording and film industries, which say they have lost millions of euros through illegal Internet downloads.

Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, who steered the second version of the bill through parliament, said the law would prevent "pillage" of works of art by "demagogues" who say that works of art should be free just because they were on the web.

"Freedom is not free license, liberalism isn't the jungle," he told the committee.

But the law, which will set up a new regulatory body with the power to investigate suspected illegal downloaders and recommend sanctions, has also been heavily criticized by consumer groups as well as the opposition.

They say it will be ineffective in combating determined pirates and will impose unduly harsh punishment on ordinary Internet users.

The previous version of the law was watered down after the constitutional court rejected a text that would have created a body with the power to cut Internet access for those found guilty of illegal downloads.

The constitutional court ruled that the new body could only have the power to issue warnings and that any disconnections could only be ordered by a judge after two written warnings from the new authority.

The sanctions imposed by a judge could also include fines of up to 30,000 euros ($44,420).

The law will also oblige anyone with a wi-fi connection to block non-authorized users from using the connection.

Mitterrand said he expected the main effect of the law to be dissuasive and he expected actual sanctions to be rare.

France's attempt to curb Internet piracy has attracted wide interest outside the country as the media industry worldwide has struggled to come up with a response to the challenge to traditional record and film sales posed by the Internet.

($1=.6754 Euro)

(Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Crispian Balmer)