French internet law clashes with EU position
The French Senate has overwhelmingly voted in favour of a law that would cut off access to the internet to web surfers who repeatedly download copyrighted music, films or video games without paying.
Under the so-called three strikes or "graduated response" legislation - which still needs approval by the lower house before it becomes French law - illegal downloaders are first sent an email warning them of their infraction. They are subsequently sent a warning letter in the post.
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If after this second warning they continue to illegally download copyrighted content, the internet service provider will cut off access to the internet for a year.
The legislation passed with a massive cross-party majority of 297 votes to 15. Only a handful of conservatives, centrists and socialists voted against, while the Communists abstained.
In passing the bill, the senators rejected an amendment proposed by senator Bruno Retailleau of the right-wing MPF party replacing internet cut-off with a fine.
Mr Retailleau accused the bill of being too severe. "Cutting access to the internet is discriminatory," he said, pointing out that often internet access comes bundled with television and fixed-line telephone services and that it is impossible to just cut off the internet.
He added that the internet has become an "essential commodity" that allows people access to social services and that their removal would be "traumatic for a family."
But the culture minister had earlier warned against the amendment, saying that the introduction of a fine was more severe a punishment.
"The principle of a financial penalty changes the philosophy [of the bill], from instructive to repressive," Christine Albanel said.
Companies and other enterprises where multiple computers have access to one network however, would instead be required to install firewalls to prevent workers from illegal downloading.
The legislation is the transposition into law of an extra-parliamentary initiative of President Nicholas Sarkozy from last November, the so-called Olivennes accord, in which some 40 stakeholders from the music, cinema and internet service provision sectors agreed that repeat illegal downloaders would have their internet cut off by ISPs. However, the accord was essentially a gentleman's agreement between the parties and without legislative weight.
The bill sets up a tussle between France and Brussels. In September, the European Parliament approved by a large majority an amendment outlawing internet cut-off.
The amendment, part of a wider telecoms bill, was then defended by information society commissioner Viviane Reding after President Sarkozy earlier this month sent European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso a letter requesting he work to overturn the parliament's decision.