AFP - French lawmakers on Thursday adopted the most contested provision of a tough new anti-piracy bill that would punish illegal downloaders by cutting off their Internet access.
Backed by top French artists but opposed by consumer groups, the "creation and Internet law" would allow a state agency to cut off Internet access for up to a year to those caught downloading pirated works more than twice.
Deputies from the ruling UMP party voted to adopt the contested measure, overriding a challenge from the Socialist opposition which called it "an assault on public and individual liberties."
Lawmakers earlier voted unanimously however to strike out a provision that would have forced banned users to keep paying their Internet subscription fees.
Once approved article by article, the entire bill will be submitted to the National Assembly for a vote.
The Internet access ban replaces current provisions that call for up to three years in prison and 300,000 euros in fines.
Supporters of the bill hope the threat of being cut off will wean web users away from pirated films and music, and towards fledgling legal video and music download sites.
Culture Minister Christine Albanel has admitted the bill has little chance of eradicating "the mass phenomenon that is piracy of cultural products."
But she says it aims to "shape a new mindset among Internet users with regard to cultural diversity and the economic and legal conditions necessary to preserve it."
More than 10,000 French artists, filmmakers, musicians and culture industry figures signed a petition in support of the bill.
In London, the IFPI federation representing the worldwide recording industry also came out in favour of the bill, championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose wife Carla Bruni released her third album last year.
But France's consumer rights group UFC-Que Choisir, has attacked it as a "legal monstrosity," saying users risk being cut off before having a chance to challenge the accusations.
A French umbrella group representing 180 high-tech and online businesses had urged the government to shelve the bill and allow the industry to come up with a better answer to piracy.