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France passes three-strikes bill

Opponents vow to block Hadopi II

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France's lower house has approved an amended version of the controversial three-strikes legislation intended to crack down on illegal downloads.

The French National Assembly passed the anti-piracy bill today by a 285 votes to 225, with the ruling majority UMP in favor and the Socialist Party leading opposition votes.

Before the legislation is definitively adopted, it will go to a parliamentary commission of seven senators and seven members of the lower house to pen a final draft that's acceptable to both houses. But the Socialists say they will appeal again to the Constitutional Court to have the bill blocked.

The Sarkozy administration championed the bill though legislation in May, creating a new state agency, the Higher Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (HADOPI), to oversee temporarily disconnecting individuals from the internet if they are accused of online copyright infringement three times.

In June, France's top court rejected the law as unconstitutional, saying Hadopi lacks the authority to shut down web access without a trial. The bill adopted today leaves it to a judge to order disconnections through an "ordonnance pénale" - a simplified proceeding that doesn't include the presence of the person accused of copyright infringement unless an appeal is filed.

Opponents say they will challenge the law again in front of the Constitutional Council because it deprives the accused of being able to defend themselves properly. France's Ministry of Culture estimates that 1,000 people a day could be cut off from the internet under the bill.

After first being sent a warning email and then a formal letter by Hadopi, those accused of illegal file-sharing for a third time could be disconnected for up to a year and face a €300,000 fine and jail time.

Even those found guilty of "negligence" for allowing others (such as their children) to pirate online material risk a month-long internet suspension and a €1,500 fine. ®

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