April 29, 2009

France Takes Second Look At Digital Piracy Bill

In an attempt to crack down on digital piracy, lawmakers in France are set to deliberate Wednesday on an updated version of a controversial bill that would shut off Internet accounts of illegal downloaders.

More than 10,000 French artists, musicians and filmmakers have signed a petition supporting the new bill.

The original bill, which was supported by the record and film industries but widely criticized by consumer groups, was rejected earlier this month. 

The setback surprised President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had championed the legislation.  The French government attributed the bill's failure to pass on a low turnout of majority lawmakers.

Lawmakers will debate the amended bill on Wednesday in the lower house National Assembly, and a new vote is expected in early May.

Under France's "three-strikes" system, the law would establish a state agency to warn illegal file-sharers initially with an email, then a letter, and finally suspend their Internet account for up to one year.

Supporters of the new bill hope such a law would ultimately entice Web users to seek out nascent legal download sites rather than sites that offer pirated films and music.

President Sarkozy has said he would fight for the amended bill's adoption, saying it was "the result of an agreement between artists, producers and telecommunications companies."

However, some telecom and technology groups say the plan would be a major hassle to implement, and would not generate additional revenue for artists.   Furthermore, it would be easy to circumvent via next-generation streaming sites.

Consumer groups have also criticized the bill, saying it would cut off users' Internet access before they had an opportunity to challenge piracy accusations.

France's Socialist opposition argues the new law would amount to state Internet surveillance. Two members of President Sarkozy's right-wing majority had joined the opposition in voting against the initial bill in protest of a provision that required banned users to continue paying for Internet service after their accounts had been cut off.

In New Zealand, protestors derailed similar plans earlier this year.  And many European nations, such as Sweden, German and Britain, have decided against enacting such measures.

In the United States, the music industry has collaborated with Internet service providers to help clamp down on piracy, with ISPs sending out warning letters to illegal downloaders.  However, few have seen their Internet access cut off.