Three-strikes strikes out

Well you can forget about that pontential showdown between Paris and Brussels over France’s three-strikes law. The French Constitutional Council on Wednesday struck down the provision allowing the government to order people cut off from the Internet for repeatedly downloading copyrighted material illegally, before the law could even be challenged in the European Court of Justice.

french-flag1According to the Council’s ruling, Internet access “is an element of freedom of speech and the right to consume,” and only a judge has the power to order someone cut off. The full text of the ruling is available here (French).

Under the law as passed, a new government agency would have the power to cut people off without first seeking a court order if they ignored at least two prior written warnings that they were infringing copyrights.

The Council’s ruling is a blow to the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, which had staked significant political capital on the law and had gone to great lengths to get it through the French Parliament.

It’s also a blow to many in the copyright industries who were hoping to see the French law become a model for other countries for cracking down on illegal file-sharing over the Internet.

At the World Copyright Summit in Washington, DC this weeks, several speakers praised the Sarkozy government for taking the lead in the fight against what many referred to as copyright “theft,” while references to the three-strikes approach repeatedly drew applause from the audience.

The summit was organized by the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC).

French Minister of Culture Christine Albanel was scheduled to speak at the summit but had to drop out at the last minute when it became apparent that the Constitutional Council was about to hand down its ruling. In her speech, which was read at the conference by France’s ambassador to the U.S. Pierre Vimont, Albanel said, “I am very happy that France is not alone in this struggle…For more than a year, in a growing number of countries, the cultural and Internet worlds have been coming together to block piracy through graduated warnings and sanctions.”

Whether any of those countries were really prepared to go as far as France is debatable. But either way, the ruling invalidating the French law could break the back of whatever momentum there was behind the three-strikes approach.

More on this in an upcoming post.