EU Parliament rejects law allowing Internet cutoff

May 6, 2009 By CONSTANT BRAND , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- Worried about trampling on the rights of innocent consumers, the European Parliament rejected Wednesday attempts by EU governments to crack down on people who illegally download copyright-protected music and movies over the Internet.

The EU assembly voted 407 to 57 to reject a compromise reached with EU governments a few weeks ago. It would have allowed France to continue its push to cut off Internet access to those caught downloading illegal copies of songs and movies.

Viviane Reding, the EU's telecoms commissioner appeared to back the rejection, saying the parliament's move was "an important restatement of the fundamental rights of EU citizens."

"For many, it is of very high symbolic and political value," she said.

Reding called on EU governments to assess their next move "very carefully."

The Parliament vote blocks the approval of a wide-ranging legal package overhauling telecommunications in the 27-nation bloc. It includes efforts to bolster privacy and consumer rights and spur more competition for Internet and phone services across the EU.

Wednesday's move will force new negotiations with EU governments, officials said.

The rejection was seen as a protest vote by the lawmakers as they head into a four-week European election campaign.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing a "three strikes and you're out" bill that tracks Internet use and warns users caught downloading illegal copies twice before it cuts off their Internet access for a year.

The French parliament rejected the measure in early April in a surprise defeat for the government, but lawmakers there are now discussing it again as entertainment companies look for better enforcement of copyright rules to combat online file-sharing.

German Social Democrat parliamentarian Erika Mann said the Parliament had "clearly spoken out against Sarkozy's Internet blocking policy."

Consumer groups also welcomed the move.

Monique Goyens, head of the European Consumers' Organization BEUC, said giving governments a free hand to cut off Internet access to protect intellectual-property rights would be "unacceptable."

"This clearly would have been a disproportionate and unfair penalty and we now call on the next Parliament to explicitly prohibit such a draconian law."

While lawmakers held up one part of the package, they did back 12 other important measures meant to overhaul the telecoms market in Europe.

Among other things, the package would set up a new EU-wide telecoms authority tasked with ensuring fair competition, bolster consumers' ability to switch mobile or landline operators and expand high-speed access, notably in rural areas.

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AP Business Writer Aoife White contributed to this report from Brussels.
©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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