Consumer groups warned that the new law could punish the wrong people
France's top legal body has struck down a key provision of new legislation aimed at punishing internet pirates.
The law, approved by deputies last month, gives officials the power to cut web access for those caught repeatedly downloading protected material.
But the Constitutional Council ruled that only a judge could bar people from the web, describing access to online services as a human right.
The law was backed by President Nicolas Sarkozy and the entertainment industry.
The Creation and Internet bill set up a new state agency - the Higher Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (Hadopi).
The agency would first send illegal file-sharers a warning e-mail, then a letter, and finally cut off their connection for a year if they were caught a third time.
But some consumer groups had warned that the wrong people might be punished, should hackers hijack their computers' identity, and that the scheme amounted to state surveillance.
John Kennedy, chairman of the IFPI, which represents the global music industry, had described the legislation as "an effective and proportionate way of tackling online copyright infringement and migrating users to the wide variety of legal music services in France".
The Constitutional Council examines whether bills that have been passed by parliament are in accordance with the French constitution.