French authorities block illegal download law

Paris, France – France’s highest legal authority has overturned a ruling that would have allowed a new state agency to cut off internet access for those who download music illegally.

The legislation, known by the acronym Hadopi, won approval in May, but was overturned yesterday by the Constitutional Council. The Council ruled that only a judge should have the power to ban individuals from using the internet, declaring that free access to public services online was a basic human right.

While the bill predictably won support from France’s music industry – including President Sarkozy’s pop singer wife Carla Bruni – it was opposed by the internet industry, the Socialist Party and various consumer groups. The Council of Europe also opposed the law, stating: “Universal access to the internet should be developed as part of member states’ provision of public services.”

Under the original law, illegal downloaders were to get two written warnings before losing their internet access for up to a year. Copyright holders were not required to provide proof of illegal downloading – this was considered too difficult to prove.

The bill was devised by Culture Minister Christine Albanel, who yesterday described internet piracy as “a parasite economy”.

The French government now plans to resubmit the law to Parliament, with unspecified changes to take account of the Court’s objections.