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28th May 2022

Sarkozy pushes Barroso to kill internet piracy decision

  • "It is fundamental that the amendment adopted by the European Parliament be rejected by the commission," Mr Sarkozy wrote. (Photo: © European Community, 2008)

The European Commission has rejected a request from the French president that commission head Barroso work to overturn the European Parliament's decision banning the cutting of internet access to websurfers who illegally download copyrighted films or music.

President Nicolas Sarkozy last week wrote to the EU executive asking Mr Barroso's "personal commitment" to rejecting an amendment buried within the parliament's vote on a telecoms bill approved by a large majority of lawmakers on 24 September.

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The amendment expressly forbade maneouvres such as the cut-off of internet service as a way of addressing piracy - something currently being considered by the French government. The European bill following the vote includes language declaring: "No restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end-users without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities."

This would in effect make a draft law on internet use planned by the French government null and void, as the latter stipulates that users who use the web for illegal downloading would see their internet access cut after two warning letters.

"It is fundamental that amendment number 138 adopted by the European Parliament be rejected by the commission. This amendment tends to exclude the possibility for member states to implement an intelligent strategy of piracy dissuasion," Mr Sarkozy wrote in a letter to commission President Jose Manuel Barroso last Friday, French media report.

"In order to have this amendment rejected, I request your personal commitment, as well as that of the commissioner in charge of the dossier [Viviane Reding]," reads the letter first published on Ecrans.fr, part of French daily Liberation's website.

The commission subsequently said it "takes note" of Mr Sarkozy's letter, but rejected the French president's demand.

"The European Commission respects this democratic decision of the European Parliament. In [our] view, this amendment is an important restatement of key legal principles inherent in the legal order of the European Union, especially of citizens' fundamental rights," a spokesperso for the institution told journalists on Monday (6 October).

Additionally, according to commission, "The language of the amendment is deliberately drafted in order to leave member states scope for reaching a fair balance between several fundamental rights, namely the right for the respect to privacy, the right to property and effective remedies, and the right of freedom of information and expression."

"The commission can therefore accept the amendment proposed by the European Parliament."

In September, 573 MEPs voted in favour of the amendment tabled by French Socialist MEP Guy Bono, while 74 voted against.

Mr Bono welcomed the commission's response to Mr Sarkozy's demand, stating: "it is only by resisting political pressure from the member states that the European construction will advance and that Europe will at last become closer to its citizens."

The bloc's telecoms ministers will meet to discuss the telecoms package, including the issue in question, on 27 November.

For its part, the French law was scheduled to be voted upon earlier this year, but this was later postponed until 2009.

It is already highly controversial in France and critics say that, among other things, it could harm users whose IP addresses have been hacked, or others using multiple-user accounts.

But Mr Sarkozy – himself married to singer Carla Bruni – has invested much personal effort in such policies, whose main goal is seen to be the protection of the creative industries against illegal downloading.

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