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French Assembly, Senate OK anti-piracy law

Three-strikes law could face legal challenge

PARIS -- The French National Assembly has now adopted the final bill on the sanctions side of the three-strikes Creation and Internet bill to tackle illegal file-sharing, by 258 votes in favor and 131 against.

With the Senate having voted for the same text Monday, following a final redrafting by a commission of seven senators and seven members of the Assembly, the parliamentary debate is over for now, six months after it started.

It now requires the signature of President Nicolas Sarkozy to become law -- though it could yet face another legal challenge from the Constitutional Council.

The bill, passed in the Assembly on Tuesday, follows the first part of the law passed in June, which created a new state agency, the Higher Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (Hadopi), to oversee a system of educational warning letters.

After two warnings, Hadopi will defer repeat offenders cases to a judge, who will be able to rule through an "ordonnance penale" (penal order), a simplified process that should enable swift rulings.

The judge will be entitled to have the infringer's internet access cut for up to a year and to impose fines of €1,500 ($2,200), or €3,000 ($4,400) if the offender has already been fined in a similar case before. The bill also introduces the obligation for Internet subscribers to secure their Internet connection. The judge will rule on whether the means allocated were sufficient.

Rights holders will still have the possibility to sue illegal file-sharers individually in front of a standard tribunal, in which case infringers remain liable to a €300,000 ($443,650) fine and three years in jail. Rights holders have stated in several occasions they would reserve this procedure for major infringers.

Before it becomes law, the bill would still have to be validated by France's Constitutional council, if an appeal was lodged by the opposing Parti Socialiste.

The opposition, which successfully derailed the former version of the bill on the Constitutional Council in June, considers the simplified procedure will deprive suspected infringers of means to defend themselves as the judge will be able to rule without hearing their defense. The party is concerned that IP addresses used to identify infringers are subject to mistakes.

The Constitutional Council has a month to rule after a case has been officially submitted to it.