AFP - French lawmakers Thursday rejected an Internet piracy bill that would cut off illegal downloaders from the web, in a surprise setback for President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.
The minister for relations with parliament, Roger Karoutchi, played down the vote, saying an amended version would be put before parliament in the coming weeks.
One of the world's toughest Internet piracy bills, the French scheme would set a precedent for global efforts to stamp out the online piracy of music, films and video games.
Under a "three-strikes" system, a new state agency would send illegal downloaders a warning by e-mail, then by letter, and suspend their connection for up to a year if they are caught more than twice.
Approved earlier in the day by the Senate, France's upper house, the contested "creation and Internet law" was defeated in a raised hands vote in a near-empty National Assembly, by a margin of 21 to 15.
Two members of Sarkozy's right-wing majority joined the left-wing opposition in voting against it, in protest at a last-minute amendment saying that banned users must continue to pay their Internet bills.
The government is expected to submit the text for a new reading in both houses without the amendment on subscription fees.
Backed by the French and international film and record industries, the government scheme has been attacked by consumer groups and Internet advocates who say it amounts to state surveillance of the Internet.
Copyright holders will be able to access data on Internet traffic to track down illegal downloaders, and report them to the new state agency.
The anti-piracy law replaces current French provisions that call for up to three years in prison and 300,000 euros (398,000 dollars) in fines.