In a decision that is likely to alarm file-sharers worldwide, an almost empty French National Assembly has finally voted through its "three strikes law" designed to clamp down on file-sharing and illegal downloads.
This was despite the guerilla warfare waged against these proposals over the last few months by a handful of Deputies on the right (Lionel Tardy, Alain Suguenot), centre (Jean Dionis du Séjour) and left (Christian Paul, Patrick Bloche, Martine Billard). A clearly scandalised Jean Dionis du Séjour railed at the poor attendance for this key measure, as, he claimed, just one in forty deputies bothered to turn up for the final debate.
The provisions are included in a law on the distribution of works and the protection of rights with respect to the internet. The law is also referred to as the loi Hadopi, because it creates a "High Authority" (Haute autorité pour la diffusion des œuvres et la protection des droits sur Internet), which will in future be charged with monitoring and regulating the use of the internet in France.
The principle behind the law is simple. Anyone suspected of illegal downloading of material on the internet will receive two letters: a first and a second warning. The first warning will recommend that the user check to make sure that no one is surfing on the back of an unsecured Wi-Fi connection: but it will also point out that it is the subscriber’s responsibility to make sure their net access is properly safeguarded.
Being hijacked will not be an excuse in the eyes of the law. If the user chooses to ignore the first letter, and they are detected illegally downloading material within the next six months, a second letter may follow.
Finally, if illegal downloading occurs within the year following the second letter, the Hadopi can then decide to suspend internet access for a period of time ranging from one month to a year.
The ultimate decision rests with the Haute Autorité, which may cut off subscribers - but does not have to. This is because the government does not wish to see businesses and institutions placed in a position where a national enterprise could suddenly find itself deprived of internet access because of the illegal activities of one or two of its managers.
This apparent double standard has already led some Deputies to express concern.