France "three-strike" system vetoed

France’s highest legal authority struck down a key provision of the controversial law that would have cut off Internet access to people who repeatedly download copyrighted content illegally.

The council rejected the core portion of the measure, under which a newly created agency, acting on the recommendations of copyright owners, would have been able to order Internet service providers to shut down the accounts of pirates who ignored two warnings to stop.

The council said the proposal was contrary to French constitutional principles, like the presumption of innocence and freedom of speech. The latter right "implies today, considering the development of the Internet, and its importance for the participation in democratic life and the expression of ideas and opinions, the online public's freedom to access these communication services," the council said.

Christine Albanel, the culture minister, said she would suggest to President Sarkozy that the law be modified as the council demanded, reserving for judges the decision to cut off Internet access. She said she regretted the loss of an opportunity to "decriminalize" the process by giving the new agency that power.

Albanel added that warning letters would begin going out to downloaders as planned in the autumn. But critics of the legislation said that without the threat of disconnection, the new agency would be toothless.

"All we have now is a big tax-sponsored spam machine for the entertainment industries," said Jérémie Zimmermann, director of La Quadrature du Net, a Paris-based group that has campaigned against the measure.

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