France gets closer to banning accused downloaders from accessing the Internet

It's not law yet, but the French Parliament has moved one step closer to adopting harsh penalties for those caught downloading pirated content more than twice. Lawmakers voted Thursday on a provision that would essentially give citizens of France three strikes before their Internet access is cut off entirely for up to one year.

Once the rest of the "Creation and Internet Law" is approved, it will go to the National Assembly for a final vote. France's President Nicolas Sarkozy came out in support of the bill, and it's likely no coincidence that his wife, Carla Bruni, released her third album last year.

How will the government know what you're downloading? That will be possible thanks to a new national surveillance program that enlists Internet service providers to monitor what users are doing. Copyright holders would have access to the surveillance data; if they believed that their copyrights have been violated, they notify the user's ISP, which first sends an email, then a registered letter, then cuts off net access for 3-12 months.

The UK and New Zealand have attempted to pass similar laws, but those efforts were struck down. The French government, however, has stronger ties to the media industry, and has bowed to a petition in support of the bill signed by more than 10,000 artists, filmmakers, musicians and other industry figures.

Culture Minister Christine Albanel says the Creation and Internet Law is critical to encourage cultural development in France, but admits it will not completely eradicate "the mass phenomenon of pirating cultural works on the Internet." According to France's entertainment industry, 450,000 illegal downloads take place each day causing loses of $10 million in royalties each year.

John Kennedy, CEO of international music industry organization IFPI, voiced his support for the measure. "Over the last two years the French government has led the way in addressing this critical challenge. It has recognised that involving ISPs in addressing the massive flow of infringing content on their networks is not only essential to protect the rights of creators and producers, but can provide a sensible and proportionate solution that will work effectively in practice."

Consumer groups, clearly, are not happy with the proposed law. Nor is France's Socialist Party, which calls it, "an assault on public and individual liberties." Because the entertainment industry claims that proof would be too complicated to establish, critics say the law doesn't require an individual to be guilty before they are punished; only accusations are necessary for action.

Still, it could have been worse for French citizens. The one-year Internet ban replaces a provision that threatened downloaders with up to three years in prison and 300,000 euros in fines. Another provision was struck down that would have required accused individuals to continue paying their ISP during the period that they are banned.

UPDATE: According to reports, the full Creation and Internet Law was passed by the National Assembly last night in a late-night vote when only 16 lawmakers were still present.

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