French copyright bill compromises on iTunes

A compromise draft of a new French copyright law offers a loophole for services like the iTunes Music Store to continue to encrypt their music with Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. The draft will be submitted to the French Senate and National Assembly for vote on June 30.

The copyright bill provoked controversy with its requirement that companies using DRM technologies to protect music downloads open up their technology to competitors wishing to create interoperable systems. It delegates responsibility for interpreting and enforcing this rule to a new regulatory authority created for the purpose.

New language introduced into the legislation provides an exception for the iTunes Music Store and other commercial music download services to continue to encrypt music with DRM as long as those restrictions are “additional to, or independent of, those explicitly decided by the copyright holders.”

In other words, provided that Apple and other music download service providers have permission from the music’s copyright holders to encrypt the music.

Apple accused the French government of fostering “a state-sponsored culture of piracy” when an earlier draft of the legislation appeared to require companies to sell digital music that would work with any music player.

The bill, formally titled “Authors’ rights and related rights in an information society,” had a stormy passage through the Senate and the Assembly, in part because the government used emergency procedures to limit each house to a single reading of the bill instead of the usual two. The drafts of the bill voted by each house differed significantly, obliging lawmakers to convene Thursday’s commission of 12 members drawn from government and opposition sides of both houses to work out the differences.

However, four opposition representatives deserted the commission meeting after only an hour of discussion, according to socialist deputy Christian Paul, one of those who walked out.

The opposition members left after government representatives presented 55 previously undiscussed amendments to the bill at the opening of the commission meeting, Paul wrote in his blog.

Their action drew an immediate riposte from deputy Christian Vanneste, a member of the ruling UMP party, who wrote in his own blog that the socialist group’s “theatrics” served only to hide their party’s internal disagreements.

Vanneste, the spokesman for the commission, said that the compromise text represents “a true balance between respect for French-style authors’ rights, recognition of Internet users’ freedom to use works as they wish through interoperability requirements and the right to make personal copies, and the legitimate wish to see growth in the businesses linked to culture and the Internet, and in the number of jobs they generate.”

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