Revised French download law passes lower house

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s disputed Internet piracy law, which would allow authorities to disconnect repeat illegal downloaders, passed the lower house of parliament in revised form on Tuesday but may still face a fresh court challenge.

A previous version of the law, approved by parliament in June, was watered down after France’s top constitutional court rejected a text that would have created a body with the power to cut Internet access for those found guilty of illegal downloads.

The constitutional court ruled that the new body could only have the power to issue warnings and that any disconnections could only be ordered by a judge.

“Artists will remember that we had the political courage to finally break the laissez-faire attitude, and to protect their rights from those who want to turn the Internet into a ground for their libertarian utopia,” said Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, who introduced the bill.

The law must still be approved by parliament as a whole and the opposition Socialists have already announced they intend to challenge the measure in the constitutional court.

On Tuesday, the law was passed by 285 votes to 225, with the Socialists, Greens and other left-wing parties opposing it and the ruling UMP party voting in favor.

France’s attempt to curb Internet piracy has attracted wide interest outside the country as the media industry worldwide has struggled to come up with a response to the challenge to traditional record and film sales posed by the Internet.

The so-called “Hadopi” law (named after the abbreviation of French title of the proposed new body), is backed by President Nicolas Sarkozy but has sharply divided opinion.

Record companies, film producers and artists have supported the bid to crack down on Internet piracy, which recording industry body SNEP estimates has destroyed 50 percent of the value of the French recorded music market in six years.

But consumer groups have objected strongly and critics, including the Socialists, say the law will be easily subverted by anyone determined to download content online.

Under the new law, the new authority will investigate suspected cases of piracy and will have the power to issue two written warnings before a judge can order an Internet connection to be disconnected and a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($43,900).

The law will also oblige anyone with a Wi-Fi connection to block non-authorized users from using the connection.

Reporting by Emile Picy