French parliament approves 'three-strikes' anti-piracy law

The law will criminalize the sharing of copyright files without authorization in France

The French National Assembly voted Tuesday to adopt, by 258 votes to 131, the so-called "three strikes" law criminalizing file-sharing. Those caught infringing copyright online could face the suspension of their Internet access, a fine or even prison.

The Senate approved the same text on Monday. With the two houses of parliament in agreement, the text now requires only the signature of President Nicolas Sarkozy to become law, although the possibility of another appeal being lodged with the Constitutional Council cannot yet be ruled out.

The proposed law takes its "three strikes" nickname from the three accusations of copyright infringement that must be leveled at surfers before their Internet access is suspended. It would create a new body, the High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet (Hadopi -- another nickname for the law), tasked with receiving the accusations and sending out warnings, first by e-mail and then by registered mail, to those accused.

Under the bill approved this week, it would be up to a court to impose final sanctions -- but the Hadopi may call for the decision to be made by a single judge, without cross-examination of witnesses.

That change, opponents said during the parliamentary debate, means the bill is little improvement on an earlier draft, which gave the administrative authority the power to disconnect surfers in a largely automated process. The earlier draft was approved by the French Parliament in April but the Constitutional Council struck the measure down as unconstitutional before it could be signed into law. The government immediately vowed to return to parliament with the new bill, known as Hadopi 2, that would satisfy the Constitutional Council.

The Senate and National Assembly struggled at first to reach agreement on the new version, forcing the government last week to appoint a committee of deputies and senators to come up with the compromise text submitted to both houses for final vote this week.

While the new bill would require that suspension of Internet access be ordered by a judge, rather than decided by in an automated process, it toughens sanctions in other areas.

Internet subscribers would be held liable if someone uses their Internet connection to illegally download copyright works -- even if that happens because their computer was attacked by malware and fell under someone else's control, or their wireless Internet access was inadequately secured.

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Peter Sayer

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