French rule copyright violations no basis for internet termination

InternetNZ is hailing the French Constitutional Council's decision to strike down a  a proposed ‘three-strikes’ law for copyright infringers as unconstitutional.

The controversial law, known as Hadopi, an acronym for the body established to police the law, would have cut off Internet access to those who repeatedly download copyrighted content illegally, much as the controversial Section 92a Act proposed to do in New Zealand before being junked by the National Party.

Music labels and movie studios were to monitor file-sharing web sites to identify computers downloading copyrighted content and report them to a government committee, which could require Internet-service providers to identify the offenders.

The committee would have warned the offender by email and registered mail before cutting off their internet access for up to a year if the illegal downloads continued.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy had argued the law would be crucial to protecting artistic creation in the digital era.

But the Council found the law violated both the constitutional right to freedom of expression and the right to presumption of innocence.

“It follows,” wrote the Court, “that in principle the legislature does not establish a presumption of guilt in criminal matters”. The Court also said exercising freedom of expression and communication, including that performed over the internet, is a prerequisite for democracy.

“Attacks on the exercise of this freedom must be necessary, appropriate and proportionate to the aim pursued,” it said.

Accordingly the law will lose the "third-strike" of cutting off internet access, and the government agency only will be permitted to send out mail and email warnings to suspected pirates. Further sanctions will require going to court.

InternetNZ has welcomed the ruling, calling it a victory for democracy that highlights the absurdity of legislative cures.

“New Zealand too has a strong assertion to individual freedom of expression and human rights. The French decision serves as a reminder that enacting such draconian copyright law is both disproportionate and unfit for purpose”, said InternetNZ Executive Director Keith Davidson.

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This is an excellent example of why countries need constitutions. Constitutions defend peoples rights and thus benefit the people and society as a whole. The 3-strike french copyright law was widely hated for various reasons and yet the parliament where quick to pass it. And there was nothing anyone could do about people having their right to internet access stolen.

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