French National Assembly approves copyright bill

The French National Assembly approved a copyright bill that will restrict P-to-P software and force DRM developers to reveal details of their systems.

The French National Assembly approved a digital copyright bill on Tuesday that will require DRM (digital rights management) developers to reveal details of their technology to rivals that wish to build interoperable systems. The bill could affect the FairPlay DRM used by Apple Computer in its iTunes Music Store and iPod music players, and Microsoft's Windows Media DRM, used by rival French music stores Fnac.com and Virginmega.fr to lock downloaded tracks to particular music players.

Deputies voted to approve the bill, "Authors' rights and related rights in an information society," by 286 votes to 193. The bill now goes to the Senate for a second reading, and a vote, before it becomes law. The government pushed the bill through under emergency procedures that deprive deputies and senators from their usual right to a third and fourth reading of the bill.

Although the bill will force DRM manufacturers to reveal some details of their systems, it will also legalize the use of DRM in France. Today, CDs with a DRM function that prevents them from playing on some equipment are considered legally to have concealed flaws, and buyers have a right to legal redress. The bill will change that.

In addition, the bill will make it illegal to develop, distribute or promote P-to-P (peer-to-peer) software for purposes other than collaborative working, research purposes or the exchange of noncommercial works. In addition, if French Internet users are found to have traded illicit files using such software, they will face a fine of Euro 38 (US$46) per infraction for downloading, or Euro 150 per infraction for uploading. The bill calls on the Council of State to determine what level of trading constitutes an infraction.

Other measures in the bill could "threaten [the development of] free and open-source software," according to Patrick Bloche, a deputy who opposed the bill, speaking in the Assembly just before the vote. The bill's restrictions on the ways third-party software can interact with proprietary DRM systems mean that French open-source software developers and researchers will lose out, Bloche said.

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Peter Sayer

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