The Constitutional Council of France (CCF), the highest legal authority in the country, has blocked a highly controversial law that would have restricted internet access for persistent illegal downloaders.
The so-called Hadopi law was passed by the French National Assembly on 12 May by 296 to 233. The legislation would have meant that individuals involved in online copyright infringement could be banned from using the internet for up to a year after a third offence.
The CCF ruled that "free access to public communication services online" is a fundamental human right, challenging the view of Christine Albanel, the French minister of cultural affairs and communications.
"No right is unconditional. It must be reconciled with other forms of freedom and cannot be invoked to violate the law," Albanel said at this week's World Copyright Summit in Washington DC.
Delegates at the summit have sought a united approach to combat illegal downloading.
The CCF decision will be a blow to French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who pressed ahead with the 'three strikes' idea even though the European Union continues to debate the policy. The European Parliament is overwhelmingly opposed to the plans.
Critics of the legislation have insisted that the law would not have worked anyway, because downloaders have the technical expertise to find ways to access any content they want.
French citizens' rights group La Quadrature du Net has welcomed the CCF ruling.
"This is a great victory for citizens who proved they can act together to protect their freedom. Hadopi's 'three strikes' is finally buried," said La Quadrature du Net co-founder Jérémie Zimmermann.
The UK government rejected a similar 'three strikes' policy last week. Andy Burnham, who was culture secretary at the time, said that cutting people off the internet was not the government's "preferred option", and that it would back "technical solutions" instead.
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