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France Passes 'Three Strikes' Piracy Law

In defiance of the European Parliament, the French lower house has approved a law that has widely been described as the most aggressive attempt to counter internet piracy yet.

The 'three-strikes' law that would cut off internet access to users found to be repeatedly downloading copyright content without the permission of the owner was passed by 296 votes to 233 in what is the government's second attempt to push through the bill.

The legislation, which creates a new government agency, the Hadopi ( the Haute Autorite pour la Diffusion des Oeuvres et la Protection des droits sur Internet, or High Authority for the Diffusion of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet), which first sends a web-surfer an email warning, then a letter through the post and, finally, as the third 'strike,' can interrupt his internet access for up to a year.

The bill, a flagship piece of legislation for President Nicholas Sarkozy, whose wife is a pop star, was defeated last month when deputies from the governing centre-right UMP failed to turn up to vote in sufficient numbers and the opposition Socialists managed to quash it.

However, in a move targetting the French three-strikes law, last week, the European Parliament approved an amendment to a major piece of telecommunications legislation specifically outlawing the ability of governments to cut off internet access without first receiving a court order.

The European bill including the amendment must still be endorsed by the Council of Ministers, representing the EU member states, when telecoms ministers meet on 12 June.

Such an endorsement is unlikely to be forthcoming, kicking passage of the entire package into the long grass, as further negotiations between the parliament and the Council will take months.

However, the author of the amendment, French Socialist MEP Guy Bono, said on Tuesday evening he intends to ask the European Commission, which has consistently backed the parliament's position, to launch legal action against Paris for "not respecting [European] community legistion."

"While the [three-strikes bill] was rejected last week by 88 percent of European deputies, the French National Assembly has bent itself to the will of the president by adopting the Creation and Internet law," he said.

"To flatter the ego of the prince," he added, in reference to the French president, "the majority intends to pass a text that it knows quite well to be contrary to community law."

"This shows utter contempt for Europe and its citizens three weeks ahead of the European elections."

Noting that the European bill still has to complete its full legislative procedure, Mr Bono said that the French move nevertheless flouts tradition.

"When two acts are discussed at the same time on both the national and [European] community level, it is good behavior to leave the community act being adopted as a primary.

"And so to avoid any legal uncertainty, in the event of a contradiction between the two laws, it is the European law that takes precedence and the national law that must be modified," he continued.

"If a French constitutional judge does not react, I will ask the European Commission to request the European Court of Justice launch infringement proceedings against the French government for not respecting community law."

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