Three Strikes Struck Down in France

PARIS — Three strikes is out in France.  And probably dead, too.

After being passed last month by French lawmakers, the graduated-response HADOPI law has been ruled unconstitutional by the nation's Constitutional Council.

HADOPI, named for the "high authority" organization that would administer the law, would force Internet service providers to cut-off access for accused copyright infringers after the third warning was issued.

The Register reports the court said the law conflicted with France’s 220-year-old 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, articles 5, 9 and 11.

"Freedom of expression and communication is all the more valuable that its exercise is a prerequisite for democracy and one of the guarantees of respect for other rights and freedoms and that attacks on the exercise of this freedom must be necessary, appropriate and proportionate to the aim pursued," the council wrote.

So now, the law exists, but is toothless; entertainment rights organizations may still send out letters, as they have in the past to alleged copyright violators, but cannot threaten an ISP service cut-off and will have to pursue other legal means.

TorrentFreak notes that France's HADOPI ran counter to the European Parliament, which found that that disconnection of accused infringers violates fundamental rights and freedoms of Internet users.

"This is a great victory for citizens who proved they can altogether act to protect their Freedom. HADOPI's three strikes is finally buried,"

said Jeremie Zimmermann of Internet free speech activist La Quadrature du Net. "All we have now is a big tax-sponsored spam machine for the entertainment industries."

But the battle for Internet control in France isn't over yet, Zimmermann added.

The government is also seeking to pass LOPPSI, a bill designed to filter Web content.

The administration of French President Nicolas Sarkozy pushed for the legislation twice, despite opposition from France's lower house, the National Assembly.  The entertainment industry also put pressure on the government, with many musicians speaking out. Sarkozy's wife, former model Carla Bruni, is also a singer-songwriter.

The Constitutional Council did state that an Internet connection may be severed if a court rules that the accused actually conducted illegal file-sharing. But otherwise, as it's said in France, "non."

Meanwhile, at the World Copyright Summit in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, a day prior to the ruling in France, French Culture Minister Christine Albanel, through a proxy ambassador delivering her speech, called piracy "a parasite economy ... the childhood disease of the Internet ... it needs to grow up."

U.S. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah also addressed the gathering.

"During this time of economic turmoil, we must ensure that all copyrighted works, both here and abroad, are protected from online theft and traditional physical piracy," he said, according to AFP news service. "Appallingly, many people believe that if they find it on the Internet then it must be free. If we're going to be successful in this fast-paced digital age, a solid partnership between the copyright community and Internet service providers is crucial."