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France constitutional court rejects portion of Internet piracy law

[JURIST] The French Constitutional Council [official website, in French] ruled [decision, in French] Wednesday that certain provisions of the proposed Internet piracy law [text, in French] violate the French Constitution [text, in French]. The challenge [JURIST report] was brought by the opposition Socialist party [party website, in French] on the grounds that the bill fails to find the balance [press release, in French] between the rights of Internet users and those of copyright holders. The Socialists additionally argued that accessing the Internet is a fundamental principle [presentation, PDF, in French] that should only be limited by the courts. 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 by proposing an escalating series of responses for users that are caught. The third violation would result in suspension of Internet access 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 that would be bestowed with judicial power. The court found that the bill violated the freedom of communication and expression guaranteed by the constitution, extending such rights to include the freedom of accessing the Internet. The power to restrict this right, the court reasoned, should not be entrusted to an administrative authority. The court left the provisions intact that require written warnings for alleged infringers, requiring the government to go to court to impose further penalties. Christine Albanel responded to the decision [press release, in French], maintaining her intent to continue protecting intellectual property rights to promote a "civilized Internet."

The measure was approved [France 24 report] by the French Senate [official website, in French] in May by a 189 to 14 vote. In April, the controversial bill was defeated [JURIST report] by the National Assembly 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 [France 24 report].

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