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EU fights over cutting off pirates from the Net

Should ISPs have the right and duty to cut off illegal file sharers from their Internet connections? This sticking point threatens an extensive EU telecommunications reform package.

A dispute has erupted in Europe regarding people's right to connect to the Internet.

The core issue concerns legislation that would give Internet service providers the right and duty--without turning to the courts first--to cut off connections of people who download pirated material.

The battle is being fought between individual EU states and the European Parliament and has created intense discussion among bloggers, politicians, civic groups, and opinion leaders.

The issue is threatening an extensive telecommunications reform package currently under debate and heading toward a vote in the EU Parliament on May 5.

The parliament's industry committee voted against the harsher stance on Tuesday and for the wording that "no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end-users without a prior ruling of the judicial authorities."

France and the U.K., two of the biggest of the EU's 27 member states, have been strong proponents for a tougher approach to piracy, according to Reuters.

France is planning to adopt legislation letting ISPs or a government agency cut off the Internet connection of people who are repeatedly caught illegally sharing copyrighted material.

The reform package as a whole has broad backing. It sets up a European regulatory body with a voting procedure as opposed to a consensus procedure between national regulators as is used today. It also lays out that competitors of a dominant network operator are guaranteed access to next-generation networks.