THE NATION that once chopped the head off a feckless king, and whose people gallantly resisted a fascist occupation, has just seen the liberté of its people betrayed by their own corrupt, corporate-owned politicians.
The French Assembly has voted to give the music and film industries the power to switch off the Internet access of anyone who they accuse of pirating copyrighted files. No evidence will be required nor will any court of law. ISPs will be notified directly by the music and film industries. Upon the third notice Internet users will be disconnected for a year but will still have to pay their ISP charges.
It is the first time that a Western government has applied the same authoritarian powers to copyright enforcement that it had for terrorism, those of punishment without rights to trial.
What is even more scary is that France has delegated that power to a private cartel rather than the civil authorities. A person does not have to be a found guilty of anything under French law to be disconnected from the Internet, Big Entertainment has merely to make an accusation.
The move, which tosses hundreds of years of constitutional freedom away, was made at the order of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The National Assembly, which is dominated by Sarkozy's right-wing party, passed the bill by a vote of 296 to 233, and the measure was set to go before the Senate for an anticipated rubber stamp of final approval today.
Philippe Gosselin, a deputy from the governing UMP party said that "even if" Internet access were a basic right, it must be reconciled with other fundamental rights including respect for intellectual property.
The law requires a state agency known by the acronym Hadopi to be established to track and punish those accused of illegally trafficking in music and movies on the Internet. However these copyright cops will operate at the beck and call of the content providers, not civil authorities. They will have power over Internet service providers to order warning letters and shut downs.
Socialist deputy Patrick Bloche, who voted against the bill, called it a "law of intimidation" that amounted to "a lose-lose situation for artists and for Internet users." He intends to ask the Constitutional Council, France's highest legal authority, to rule on the constitutionality of the law.
The law is also likely to conflict with superceding European Union law which requires that the basic rights of Internet users cannot be restricted without a court order.
Similar plans in New Zealand were derailed by public protests earlier this year. Britain, Germany and Sweden have decided against such so-called 'three-strikes' Internet cut-off measures.
The French are thought to be about ready to take up pitchforks and torches, as well they should. µ
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