A French bill that proposes disconnecting users from the Internet if they download music or video files illegally drew criticism Tuesday from consumer groups and opposition legislators.
The government wants to stem the flow of songs and films circulating freely on the Internet, depriving artists of revenues and threatening the survival of production companies.
Artists need to make a living. We are ruining them. We must react and have the courage to take our responsibilities, said Jean-Francois Cope, head of ruling UMP party legislators in the National Assembly.
Music companies have been hit hard by Internet piracy in recent years and the trend shows no sign of abating. About 95 percent of the music downloaded from the Internet around the world in 2008, or more than 40 billion files, was illegal.
The French bill says users who download files illegally must receive an email warning. If they do it again, they receive a second warning by registered post. If caught a third time, they are disconnected from the Internet for two months to a year.
Critics said this would be difficult to apply. They also said it would pit artists against their own public and would pose the risk that honest users could be unfairly penalized.
It's a bad text that presents a lot of problems and that opposes artists and Internet users. It will probably never be implemented, said Patrick Bloche, who will speak for the opposition Socialists during the National Assembly debate.
Consumer groups said it would be all too easy for hackers to use other computers' I.P. addresses, or identity number assigned to devices connected to the Internet, to download files.
The bill violates the principle of presumption of innocence because the onus would be on the Internet users to prove their good faith, said campaign group UFC-Que Choisir.
The bill was adopted by the upper chamber, the Senate, in October but could face a bumpier ride in the National Assembly this week. The Socialists have said they will vote no, while a centrist group normally allied to the UMP is hesitating. Even a small number of UMP deputies have criticized the bill.
The music industry and governments have struggled to come up with responses to the phenomenon of file-swapping on the Internet ever since peer-to-peer sites like Napster gained popularity in the late 1990s.
In January, Irish Internet provider Eircom agreed to disconnect users who download music illegally in a settlement with four major record companies. Irish media said it was the first deal of its kind in the world.
In Britain, the government announced in January twin plans to provide broadband Web access to the whole country by 2012 while also introducing new legislation forcing Internet providers to take action against users who infringe copyright.
After years of trying to protect content by suing those who illegally downloaded it, the music industry has tried to change strategy, forging partnerships with online retailers.
But the future still looks uncertain for the market, which shrank by about 7 percent globally in 2008.
(Additional reporting by Emile Picy, writing by Estelle Shirbon)