Thursday, April 09, 2009

French Lawmakers Reject Internet Piracy Bill

French legislators on Thursday rejected legislation to permit cutting off the Internet connections of people who illegally download music and films. But a stubborn government plans to resurrect the bill for another vote this month.

Backers of the bill -- record labels, film companies and law-and-order parliamentarians -- couldn't rally the needed support during in a near empty lower chamber ahead of the Easter holiday. Lawmakers voted 21 to 15 against it.

The measure would have created a government agency to track and punish those who pirate music and film on the Internet. Analysts said the law would have helped boost ever-shrinking profits in the entertainment industry, which has struggled with the advent of online file-sharing that lets people swap music files without paying.

The government, intent on gaining the upper hand in piracy, managed to slip the measure into an April 28 special session devoted to initiatives by President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party.

The president's office reaffirmed Sarkozy's wish to get the law passed "as quickly as possible."

He "does not plan to renounce this whatever the maneuvers" to try to stop the bill's passage, a statement said.

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 supported the measure, hailing it 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 music and film industries depends on cracking down on illegal downloads, and the legislation received industry support from around the world.

"It is disappointing that the law was not confirmed today," said London-based John Kennedy, Chairman and CEO of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents the recording industry worldwide and supported the bill.

Legislators and activists who opposed the legislation said it would represent a Big Brother intrusion on civil liberties -- they called it "liberticide" -- while the European Parliament last month adopted a nonbinding resolution that defines Internet access as an untouchable "fundamental freedom."

Opponents also pointed out that users downloading from public WiFi hotspots or using masked IP addresses might be impossible to trace. Others called its proposed monitoring structures unrealistic.

"It is a bad response to a false problem," said Jeremie Zimmerman, coordinator of the Quadrature du Net, a Paris-based Internet activist group that opposed the bill, calling it "completely impossible to apply."

He said the bill's rejection is proof of a widespread sense that it was a draconian approach.

Under the legislation, users would receive e-mail warnings for their first two identified offenses, a certified letter for the next, and would have their Web connection severed, for as long as one year, for any subsequent illegal downloads.

French Culture Minister Christine Albanel had said the bill did not aim to "completely eradicate" illegal downloads but rather to "contribute to a raising of consciousness" among offenders.

"There needs to be an experiment," said Pierre-Yves Gautier, an Internet law expert at the University of Paris, noting the plummeting profits of the entertainment industry. "Frankly, it's worth it."

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