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France's 'three strikes' anti-piracy law shot down

Fines only for internet copyright infringers from now on

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French internet users need no longer fear having their connections cut off under strict France's Hadopi copyright infringement law, after the government's Constitutional Council on Friday ruled that portion of the much-criticized law to be unconstitutional.

Under an official decree issued on Monday, the government can no longer suspend users' internet access for copyright violation. Fines are now the only available penalty, starting at a meager €60 and increasing based on the number of infractions.

According to a statement by a Council spokesperson on Tuesday, the move indicates a change in the government's philosophy from a policy of pursuing individual infringers to one of fighting "commercial piracy," or "sites that profit from pirated content."

Not that Hadopi has ever been effective at stopping individual pirates to begin with. Despite employing some 60 people at a cost of €12m per year, the organization has achieved little since its inception beyond issuing more than 1.6 million warning emails.

Fewer than 200 cases have ever been considered for prosecution under the Hadopi law, and the resulting lawsuits have brought in but a paltry €750 in fines. Only one internet user has ever actually been cut off from the network, and that only happened as recently as June.

Last August, French cultural minister Aurélie Filippetti slammed Hadopi, describing it as an "expensive" law that "has not fulfilled its mission of developing legal downloads." She further said the provision that allowed the government to cut off users' internet access seemed to be "a disproportionate sanction against the goal."

As of Friday's ruling, France's Constitutional Council appears to concur with Filippetti's view, as well as that of Pierre Lescure, who chaired a formal investigative panel that released its own findings on Hadopi in May. That report recommended scrapping the current Hadopi enforcement organization altogether and targeting for-profit offenders instead.

But individual infringers aren't likely to get a free ride under France's new copyright-enforcement regime. The Lescure commission's report also recommended that the government institute a new "culture tax" on content consumption devices – such as PCs, smartphones, tablets, e-readers, videogame consoles, and TV sets – to make up for taxes lost to declining home media and ticket sales.

It's a typically French solution: individual pirates won't be targeted directly, save for small, automatic fines. Instead, everyone must pay tax on behalf those who infringe.

In May, Fillipetti said she expected the new culture tax to be introduced in a budget law to be submitted to the French parliament in November. ®

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