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France Internet piracy law faces constitutional challenge

[JURIST] A French Internet piracy law [text, in French; JURIST news archive] has been challenged on constitutional grounds by the opposition Socialist party [party website, in French] in front of the Constitutional Council [official website, in French]. The bill, introduced by cultural minister Christine Albanel and supported by President Nicholas Sarkozy [official websites, in French], is aimed at reducing illegal downloads of protected works and was approved by the French Senate [France 24 report] earlier this month by a 189-14 vote. The bill proposes an escalating series of responses for users that are caught, beginning with two warnings followed by suspension of Internet access. The suspension of services would be at the discretion of the High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet [materials, in French], an administrative authority bestowed with judicial power, which is one of the stipulations contested by the Socialists and others. Internet subscribers could also be held responsible for others using their connections to download pirated materials. The Socialists maintain that the bill fails to find the balance [press release, in French] between the rights of Internet users and those of copyright holders and argue [presentation, PDF, in French] that freedom to access the Internet is a fundamental principle that should be guaranteed for everyone, only to be limited by the courts. The council has one month to issue a ruling on the challenge, filed Tuesday. If the law is found to be constitutional, it could take effect shortly after that.

The controversial bill was defeated [JURIST report] last month by the National Assembly [official website, in French] but was later approved [JURIST report]. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry [organization website], representing the worldwide recording industry, has welcomed the legislation [press release], while it has been opposed [press release, in French] by French consumer interest group UFC-Que Choisir [advocacy website, in French] as well as cable and internet providers [French 24 report]. The assembly began considering the bill [JURIST report] in March after it passed through the French senate in October 2008.

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