French Lawmakers Reject ‘Illegal Downloads’ Bill

By Scott Sayare | April 9, 2009 | 6:45 AM EDT
Update:  French lawmakers on Thursday unexpectedly rejected a bill that would have cut off the Internet connections of people who illegally download music or films.  
It would have also created the world's first government agency to track and punish those who steal music and film on the Internet.
The contested bill had initially passed the lower house of parliament last week. Few lawmakers appeared for Thursday's vote to finalize the measure.
When the vote was held in a near-empty National Assembly, the bill was rejected by a vote of 21-15.
The music and film industry had supported the bill, aimed at boosting industry receipts and cracking down on illegal downloading.
Critics say it will be too tough to apply and encroaches on freedoms.

(Earlier story continues below)

Paris (AP) - French Web users who illegally download music, TV or films may soon no longer risk fines: Now the government wants to simply cut off their Internet connections.
Lawmakers in France's parliament are expected to pass legislation Thursday geared at reducing illegal downloads and boosting entertainment industry profits. The law would establish the world's first government agency to track and punish those who steal music and film on the Internet.
"It's absolutely innovative," said Professor Pierre-Yves Gautier, an Internet law expert at the University Pantheon-Assas in Paris.
Critics say it will be too tough to apply and encroaches on freedoms.
Under the legislation, users would receive email warnings for their first two identified offenses, a certified letter for the next, and would have their Web connection cut for any subsequent illegal downloads.
Music labels, film distributors and artists -- who have seen CD and DVD sales in France plummet 60 percent in the past six years -- almost universally support the law, which they hail as a decisive step toward eliminating online piracy and an example to other governments.
Artists' groups in France have said the future of the country's movie and film industries depends on cracking down on illegal downloads.
But some French activists and legislators say the law represents a Big Brother intrusion on civil liberties. Opponents in the National Assembly have called it "liberticide." The European Parliament last month adopted a resolution -- though non-binding -- that defines Internet access as an untouchable "fundamental freedom."
Other opponents note that users downloading from public WiFi hotspots or using masked IP addresses might be impossible to trace.
They say the law also misses the point, by targeting traditional downloads at a time when online streaming is taking off, for example.
"It will, in any case, be completely impossible to apply," said Jeremie Zimmerman, coordinator of the Quadrature du Net, a Paris-based Internet activist group that opposes the bill. "It is a bad response to a false problem."
French Culture Minister Christine Albanel has said the law "doesn't aim to completely eradicate" illegal downloads but rather to "contribute to a raising of consciousness" among offenders.
Supporters have cited studies claiming that 90 percent of offenders would cease their illegal activity after the second notice. They also say a cancelled Internet connection, unlike a fine, would affect all users equally, be they rich or poor.
"There needs to be an experiment," said Gautier, the Internet law expert, noting plummeting entertainment industry profits. "Frankly, it's worth it."
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