French lawmakers finalize copyright bill

As French lawmakers completed the text of a new copyright bill early Friday morning, supporters of open-source software claimed a victory of sorts, while others lamented the coming criminalization of peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software.

The National Assembly wrapped up its discussion of the bill at 3:55 A.M. Paris time, finishing with a flurry of amendments that pro-open source lobbyists said preserved programmers’ right to work around DRM (digital rights management) systems to ensure interoperability between proprietary and open-source systems. Earlier drafts of the bill would have punished such activities with a three-year prison sentence and a fine of €300,000 (US$360,000).

But Ligue Odebi, a group representing broadband Internet users, described the effect of the bill on its members as “repressive” for the way it treats P-to-P software. The bill will render illegal the development, distribution or use of P-to-P software for purposes other than collaborative working, research purposes, or the exchange of noncommercial works.

If Internet users are found to have traded illicit files, though, the bill sets a fine of €38 per infraction for downloading, or €150 per infraction for uploading. The bill calls on the Council of State to determine what level of trading constitutes an infraction.

Deputies will vote on the bill, “Authors’ rights and related rights in an information society,” on Tuesday. If they approve, it will go on to the Senate for its final reading. The government is pushing the legislation through under emergency procedures that allow it to dispense with the usual third and fourth readings by deputies and senators.

Other measures in the bill could force companies using DRM to publish details of the system, letting other manufacturers to develop interoperable systems. The measures are widely seen as aimed at companies such as Apple. By refusing to disclose details of its FairPlay DRM system, Apple effectively shuts out competitors from developing digital music players that can play music downloaded directly from its iTunes Music Store, or from selling DRM-protected music that will play on an Apple iPod.

Editor’s Note: This story was reposted at 8:45 p.m. ET to correct a reporting error that incorrectly stated the scope of the bill’s effect on developers, promoters and users of peer-to-peer software. The bill excludes from its effect those developing, promoting or using peer-to-peer software for collaborative working, research purposes, or the exchange of noncommercial works. In addition, the article has been clarified to show that, although the bill sets fines for trading illicit files, it calls on the Council of State to determine what level of trading constitutes an infraction.

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