France's Constitutional Council has effectively neutered the 3-strikes law. The power to restrict someone's Internet access equates to a restriction of their liberty. Only a judge can make that kind of decision.
The decision of the Conseil Constitutionel was released today. It follows the passing of the Creation and Internet law via an emergency process on 13 May, as a key plank in the French government's strategy to deal with downloading of music and film over the Internet. This law proposed to set up an authority known as the HADOPI, which would act as intermediary between rights holders organisations and ISPs, and would pass on the allegations from the rights holders with a request to the ISPs to warn or sanction their users.
There has been considerable public debate about the status of the HADOPI, whether it is a court or indeed, if it has any legal authority to sanction member of the public. This is the guts of the issue surrounding the Telecoms Package Amendment 138.
Today's decision makes it clear that
the HADOPI would be merely a public administrative authority (une autorité administrative), and would not have the legal powers of a court. It also makes it clear that an administrative authority should not have the power to strip people of their digital liberty.
Thus the HADOPI may not impose sanctions on Internet users, and specifically not by suspending or terminating Internet access, and the Conseil Constitutionel has ordered the text of the law to be changed appropriately. This change has the effect of neutering the 3-strikes measures.
The decision refers back to a law passed during the French Revolution - 'article 11 de la Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen de 1789' commenting that the liberty protected by the founding fathers of the French Republic continues to serve a purpose in todays Information Society:
"Cette liberté implique aujourd'hui, eu égard au développement généralisé d'internet et à son importance pour la participation à la vie démocratique et à l'expression des idées et des opinions, la liberté d'accéder à ces services de communication au public en ligne."
And it explicity says that the power to cut people off the Internet, should only be given to a court of law:
"Ces pouvoirs pouvaient donc conduire à restreindre l'exercice, par toute personne, de son droit de s'exprimer et de communiquer librement. Dans ces conditions, le législateur ne pouvait, quelles que soient les garanties encadrant le prononcé des sanctions, confier de tels pouvoirs à une autorité administrative dans le but de protéger les titulaires du droit d'auteur. Ces pouvoirs ne peuvent incomber qu'au juge. "
The decision of the Conseil Constitutionel - a Constitutional court which may rule on disputes over new laws - will have repercussions all round. It waters down the Creation and Internet law to something that resembles a very expensive direct marketing exercise. From what I understand, the decision does not annul the Creation and Internet law, but it does insist on changes to the text, which will alter the HADOPI's powers. It is also my understanding that the decision will be binding and cannot be appealed.
And of course, there is the Telecoms Package and Amendment 138. Maybe that is why the Telecoms Package is only to be discussed informally at tomorrow's Telecoms Council meeting. It certainly puts the EU in a difficult position. It supports the European Parliament's decision to pass Amendment 138, although a number of other adjustments to the Package will be necessary to properly underpin it in the law.
Here is the press release from the Conseil Consitutionel .
Here is a statement from the pressure group La Quadrature du Net .
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2009) French 3-strikes law neutered in surprise judgement , http://www.iptegrity.com 10 June 2009.