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French MPs begin new debate on Internet piracy bill

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French lawmakers began to examine a new version of a tough bill against Internet piracy on Wednesday evening. MPs from Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, who were blamed for the bill's surprise rejection in early April, turned out in large numbers.

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AFP - French lawmakers Wednesday started examining a new version of a contested bill that would cut off illegal downloaders from the Internet, in a tough new precedent for efforts to fight film and music piracy.

Backed by the record and film industries but attacked by consumer groups, the bill was rejected this month in a surprise setback for President Nicolas Sarkozy's government that was blamed on low turnout among majority lawmakers.

"The Internet cannot be above the law," said Culture Minister Christine Albanel, who was booed and whistled by the Socialist opposition as she defended the amended text in front of a packed National Assembly.

Under a "three-strikes" system, the law would set up a state agency to send illegal file-sharers an email warning, then a letter, and suspend their Internet account for up to a year if they are caught a third time.

Supporters hope the bill -- which is to be put to a new vote on Tuesday -- will wean web users away from pirated films and music, and towards fledgling legal download sites.

Sarkozy, who championed the legislation, has said he would fight for its adoption, calling it "the result of an agreement between artists, producers and telecommunications companies".

"Artists and the creative industries are massively on our side," Albanel told opposition lawmakers, who charge that the bill amounts to state surveillance of the web.

More than 10,000 French filmmakers and musicians, from Johnny Hallyday to Catherine Deneuve, have signed a petition backing the bill, some 60 of whom met with Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni at the Elysee last week.

But technology and telecoms groups warn the plans would be a major headache to implement, without generating any new revenue for artists -- and would be easy to circumvent via a new generation of streaming sites.

Consumer groups have attacked the bill on the grounds that users would be cut off before having a chance to challenge the accusation of piracy.

And two members of Sarkozy's right-wing majority joined the opposition in voting against earlier this month, in protest at a provision saying banned users must continue to pay their Internet bills.

Similar plans in New Zealand were derailed by protests earlier this year, and several European countries including Britain, Germany and Sweden have decided against cut-off measures.

In the United States, the record industry has enlisted Internet access providers to help root out piracy, with providers sending out warning letters to illegal downloaders, but reports suggest only a handful have been banned.

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