France's Creation and Internet law has been watered down after the country's Constitutional Council ruled against a key element that would have allowed an independent administrative authority to cut off copyright infringers' broadband access after two warnings.

The controversial system to cut off repeat offenders has had a troubled passage towards the statute book, after it was surprisingly rejected by the French Assembly on April 9 amid complaints by the ruling UMP party of President Sarkozy about dirty tricks by the Socialist opposition.

However, the French President's latest challenge to the three-strikes scheme comes from the French Constitutional Council today (June 10), after it partly curtailed the Creation and Internet law as voted on by both the French Assembly and Senate in May, when the government revived the legislative process. The Council's ruling is mandatory.

The law intended to implement an independent administrative authority - called HADOPI - that would have been entitled to collect infringers' data from their Internet Service Providers, to send them warnings and to ultimately have their Internet access cut for up to a year.

In its decision, the Constitutional Council denied HADOPI any power to cut repeat infringers' Internet access, which had been a key part of the plan to deter piracy. The decision was based on several reasons, a council spokeswoman told Billboard.biz, including the fact that communication and liberty of expression are fundamental rights that only a judge can rule on.

However, the Council confirmed the legality of HADOPI in its proposed role to send warnings to infringers, based on requests by collecting societies and other organizations representing rights holders.

Copyright infringers can still be cut off under the Creation and Internet law, but each case will need a judge's ruling rather than that of a dedicated body (HADOPI).

While praising the implementation of HADOPI's educational measures against piracy, French minister of Culture Christine Albanel, who carried the law for the government, lamented that HADOPI could not also handle the sanctions as initially planned.

In a statement issued today, Albanel said she would ask the French government to quickly complete the law by conferring the "ultimate step of gradual response" (in other words the cutting of Internet access) to the judge. Billboard.biz understands that this will require the government to present a new draft bill to both the French Assembly and Senate with the sanctions element of the Creation and Internet law revised.

However, the government can begin implementing the warning system. Albanel said HADOPI would be ready to issue its first warnings by this fall. In order to become effective, the law as amended by the Constitutional Council has to be published by the government in French official publication "Journal official."

French labels body Snep's director general, Hervé Rony, acknowledged to Billboard.biz that the Council's decision is another blow for the industry. However, he stressed that the implementation of a scheme allowing warnings and the retention of records of infringements remains a crucial achievement.

Rony adds that he hopes the French justice department would allocate the necessary means for French judges to be able to rule effectively on such infringement cases, although he acknowledged that the three-strikes scheme would not be as far-reaching as initially expected.

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