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France eliminates threat to cut off internet pirates

PARIS (Reuters) - France has put an end to the most controversial element of a copyright piracy law that allowed the government to cut off the Internet subscriptions of repeat offenders.

The Socialist government of Francois Hollande published an official decree on Tuesday to erase the provision in the law that allowed courts to deprive copyright violaters of their internet connectivity if they transgressed on three occasions. However, other sanctions, such as fines, will remain in place.

The tough anti-piracy law championed by previous president Nicolas Sarkozy was embraced by the music and movie industries but came under fire from critics who said it threatened civil liberties.

"This measure is necessary because it ends a penalty that is not suited to today's world, and because it illustrates the new orientation of the government's efforts to fight online piracy," Minister of Culture Aurelie Filippetti said in a statement on Tuesday.

She added that France would now focus its efforts on websites that profit from illegal downloading rather than individual users.

France was one of the first countries to adopt a "three-strikes" law to protect artists and intellectual property owners from copyright violations. But the law, passed in 2009, has barely made a dent in online piracy as consumers moved to new technologies such as the streaming of video or music instead of downloads.

Only one person actually had his Internet access cut off in a ruling that came in June.

The French law was similar to those in place in Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. Users are sent a series of notifications to warn them that they have allegedly infringed copyright and information on legal alternatives. Repeat offenders then face fines or the removal of their internet access.

Music and entertainment companies lobbied hard for these types of laws, which eventually required Internet service providers and telecoms companies to identify their customers by the IP addresses where alleged illegal downloads occurred. The practice was opposed by privacy advocates and Internet activists.

(Reporting by Leila Abboud and Christian Plumb; Editing by David Goodman)

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