Three strikes and you lose broadband, net thieves told

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Persistent illegal downloaders in France are to have their internet access cut, after a controversial anti-piracy law was endorsed by the French cabinet.

Under the rules, which come into effect in January, it will be "three strikes and you're out" for French Web users downloading copyrighted films and songs, presumably including those of President Nicolas Sarkozy's wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

"There is no reason that the internet should be a lawless zone," said M. Sarkozy.

Adrian Strain, the director of communications for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, said: "It's a great initiative that is good news for the whole music sector and we hope it will get through the legislative process as quickly as possible. We're very pleased to see France taking the lead in addressing the critical issue of internet piracy."

As a sweetener to the deal, material produced in France will be available free of copyright protection devices, which means music and video files will be able to be more easily transferred between different computers and portable media players.

The law will be policed by a new agency, the High Authority for Copyright Protection and Dissemination of Works on the Internet . Those who have been found illegally downloading files will receive a warning by email and then by registered letter. If the offender persists, their connection will be cut off by their provider for up to a year.

Critics of the new law claim that internet users could face a breach of their privacy. One petition claims the agency will essentially "hunt down individual users, who happen to love culture". And some major internet companies – including Google and the French video-sharing website Dailymotion – have refused to sign up.