• France's Anti-Piracy Plan Hits Yet another Roadblock
  • July 15, 2009
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • The highest constitutional body in France has flung another obstacle in the path of the government’s plan to block Internet access of repeat copyright pirates, finding that authorities had no right to act without court approval.

    The Constitutional Council, which reviews and approves legislation passed by Parliament before it goes into effect, rejected an essential aspect of the legislation, which would have created a new agency with the authority to order Internet service providers to terminate the accounts of alleged copyright pirates who defied two warnings to stop downloading copyrighted content.

    It wrote that giving an agency such authority was contrary to the French constitutional principle of freedom of speech. “[C]onsidering the development of the Internet, and its importance for the participation in democratic life and the expression of ideas and opinions, [this principle protects] the online public’s freedom to access these communication services,” the Council said. It also said the proposal was contrary to the constitutional presumption of innocence.

    The decision is the latest setback for supporters of the legislation, which was first outlined a year and a half ago by President Nicolas Sarkozy. Parliament approved the proposal last month, but only after the government resubmitted it following a surprise rejection by the lower house, the National Assembly, in April.

    Why it matters: The Council’s ruling is a major stumbling block for music and film companies, which had held up the French law as a model for combating illegal file-sharing. French Culture Minister Christine Albanel said she would propose to President Sarkozy that the law be modified as the Council demanded, reserving to the courts the decision to block Internet access. Albanel added that the agency would start sending warning letters to downloaders in the fall as planned. Observers said that without the threat of disconnection, the new agency is largely powerless.