French three-strikes bill gets legislative approval

After being ratified by France's lower house yesterday, the controversial "three strikes" anti-piracy bill received the French senate's stamp of approval earlier today. That leaves one final step before the bill can become law: review by the French Constitutional Council, which will determine whether it's at odds with the nation's constitution.

If the Council signs off, the French government will create a new administrative body—HADOPI—that will handle complaints from copyright holders, contact Internet service providers to obtain the identity of users, send those users warnings, and in the case of recidivists, arrange to have their Internet connections disabled. According to Le Figaro, suspected pirates will receive one warning e-mail, then another if they're accused a second time, and a physical letter (sent via certified mail) for a third accusation. If they're accused again within a year, those folks could see their Internet connections disabled for two to 12 months.

This proposal has generated controversy both because of the potential for false positives and because of the fact that users are presumed guilty and automatically penalized by an administrative, not judicial, body. To prevent false positives, French Culture Minister Christine Albanel, who spearheaded the bill, suggests alleged pirates could mail their hard drives to HADOPI. Another solution: running government-provided software that will block access to pirate sites. However, that software won't be offered free of charge, and it may not run on all operating systems.

Even if the Constitutional Council signs off, however, EU legislators could still shoot down this law. As Libération writes, on May 6, the European Parliament approved an amendment that would make it illegal for EU governments to block citizens' Internet access "without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities." The Telecoms Package that contains the amendment could come into force as early as June 12.

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