French Legislators Toughen 'three Strikes' Internet Law

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French lawmakers have increased penalties for Internet users caught downloading copyright works without permission as they fine-tuned a draft law before its final reading on Thursday.

Conflicting versions of the law were voted by the French National Assembly last week and the French Senate last year, forcing the government to appoint a joint commission composed of members of the two houses of the French parliament to reconcile the differences in a final text.

The joint commission discarded a number of amendments voted by the National Assembly that had softened the Senate's earlier draft of the law.

It reinstated the double penalty for Internet users accused three times of downloading copyright works without permission: In addition to having their Internet access suspended, they will now have to continue to pay for that service for the duration of the suspension. The commission made the change despite warnings from some National Assembly members that it could be unconstitutional.

The unavailability of a copyright work through legal channels will no longer be a defense against charges of piracy, the commission decided.

In other changes made by the commission, the government lost its right to nominate the president of the High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet (Hadopi) that the law creates -- but will now nominate more of the authority's members, who in turn will elect its president. The Hadopi's main role is to examine accusations against Internet users that they have illegally downloaded copyright works. It will now also have the responsibility for managing a Web portal listing legal online music outlets. The previous draft of the law required the authority to oblige search engines to prioritize links to legal content over those to illegal content.

The Senate is set to approve the commission's text in a vote on Thursday evening. Before it becomes law, those lawmakers who warned it was unconstitutional will be able to refer it to the Constitutional Council for examination.

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