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French govt to cut off internet pirates

Aggressive plan to tackle music and film piracy

The French government hopes to take a lead in the battle against music and film piracy by cutting pirates' internet access.

The move is part of a range of measures to deal with the unauthorised copying of music and video online proposed by the French Ministry of Culture, including watermarking content, tracking surfers' activities, and creating a registry of those accused by copyright holders of piracy.

Minister for culture Christine Albanel said the problem of digital piracy was "urgent" - despite the introduction last year of a controversial law that made unauthorised file-sharing a criminal offence punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of €30,000 (£23,000).

"We can't accept for much longer that artists be deprived of the fruits of their work," she said.

The government has won agreement for its latest proposals from the French media industry, which will implement the watermarking measures and make legal downloads of films more widely and rapidly available. Albanel signed the agreement on Friday with TV channels, internet service providers (ISPs), and groups representing filmmakers, authors and musicians' rights groups.

In return for the support of these organisations, the government will create a new agency to monitor internet traffic for the presence of watermarked files and handle complaints from rights holders. Anyone whose internet connection is used to download such files could receive an official warning from their ISP. A second offence could result in their contract with the ISP being terminated and their name being added to a registry of offenders

The register could potentially lead to a new class of digital have-nots unable to find a new ISP, at a time when the government is increasingly moving services for citizens online.

Consumer rights groups rejected the new measures. Cutting off internet connections without a fair trial flouts the constitutional principal that citizens are "innocent until proven guilty", said the Union of French Consumers (UFC).

The plans are "repressive" and will lead to the creation of a private internet police force, said Frédéric Couchet, a spokesman for APRIL, an association that promotes and researches free and open-source computing.

The ministry also recommended that record labels stop using Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems to restrict the devices on which music downloads can be played.

However, the recommendation lacks concrete measures, the UFC said, and would not deal with the problem of DRM destroying the usefulness and thus the commercial value of copyright works.

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