French anti-piracy law rejected

Presidential party fails to turn up for formal vote

PARIS -- French Internet users celebrated while the country's audiovisual industry looked on shell-shocked Thursday as a new anti-piracy law expected to pass easily was unexpectedly shot down by parliament.

The Creation and Internet law had called for the creation of a Hadopi (High Authority for the Broadcast of Content and the Protection of Rights on the Internet) committee to regulate online piracy. The Hadopi would be authorized to trace illegal downloaders through their IP addresses.

While the law was approved by the senate and won preliminary votes in parliament on Tuesday, the parliament voted 21-15 against the law's adoption when President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party members, confident that the verdict would be in their favor, failed to show up for the final vote.

The news shocked the French audiovisual industry, since the vote was considered a mere formality on its way to being put into effect.

The Hadopi law called for a "gradual response," based on the U.S. concept of "three strikes," whereby offenders would first be warned by e-mail, then by a written letter, before authorities cut their Internet access completely.

Piracy of online audiovisual content would be punishable by a two-month suspension of Internet access, with the offender required to continue to pay his or her subscription fee.

The latter part of the punishment was deemed too strict by members of opposing party the PS, who ended up voting against the law.

The initiative from Sarkozy's governing party the UMP would have been the first such surveillance system in effect in the world.

French government officials have been cracking down on illegal downloading recently and also have aimed to combat piracy among feature film downloads by reducing the window between a film's theatrical and DVD release to four months instead of the current six.

The government will present a modified version of the law to parliament again after the government body's "Easter vacation," which lasts through April 28.
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