The French Ministry of Culture announced Tuesday that people who illegally download copyrighted works off the Internet no longer have to fear being disconnected for a year under the nation's controversial anti-piracy law.

The disconnection threat was part of the country's Creation and Internet law, passed in 2009 in the face of strong opposition by French socialists, then in the minority. Today's French government is run by those same socialists, who came to dominate the legislature in last year's elections.

French President François Hollande, also a member of the Socialist Party, said during his own campaign that he wanted to do away with the agency overseeing the copyright scheme, formally named the High Authority of Diffusion of the Art Works and Protection of the Rights on the Internet (HADOPI). Members of his Socialist Party also pulled off some parliamentary theatrics in 2009 to slow the law's adoption by several months, hiding in a broom closet so lawmakers could not bring it to a vote on their first attempt.

As of Monday, their years of struggle against HADOPI rendered a major success as the French Ministry of Culture announced that its most controversial weapon against piracy is no more.

"This is essential, both because it ends a totally inappropriate punishment in the world that is ours, and because it illustrates the change in direction that the Government committed in the fight against piracy works on the Internet," the French government said in an automatically translated advisory. "The priority now is the fight against commercial piracy, otherwise against sites that profit from pirated content, monetize without pay creators."

The loss of HADOPI's disconnection provision is more than just a victory for French socialists -- it's a defeat for U.S. industry groups, which fiercely lobbied prior French administrations to adopt harsh punitive measures against anyone who shares copyrighted content.

That lobbying effort was conducted by The Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Business Software Alliance, and U.S. State Department representatives carried that message to their French counterparts. Diplomatic cables leaked to whistleblower website WikiLeaks in 2010 revealed that the U.S. embassy in Paris was very attuned to the fact that American businesses felt the disconnection plan was "very important."

More importantly, HADOPI's "graduated response" anti-piracy scheme served as a template for the copyright snooping system American Internet service providers have rolled out over the last year in conjunction with those same movie, music and software lobbies. The U.S. copyright enforcement regime, however, does not threaten users with permanent disconnection. Instead, a third-party spies on peer-to-peer networks and flags IP addresses, which ISPs can then target for reduced bandwidth or interruption pages warming about legal sanctions due to piracy.

French officials said that just one person was ever actually severed from their Internet connection under the scheme -- for a total of 15 days. The individual was also fined €600 ($771), which is a heck of a lot better than the typically outrageous damage claims levied against American downloaders.


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(H/T: Ars Technica)