French continue legislative debate over digital music copyright bill

Despite pressure from international media companies and content owners, lawmakers in France are moving closer to writing new copyright law that would have a major impact on downloading digital media files.

The Senate version of what is nicknamed the “iPod bill” softens some proposals that could have forced Apple Computer to open all music sold from its iTunes Music Store to play on portable devices other than the Apple iPod, the New York Times reported.

An earlier version of the legislation passed by the National Assembly allowed consumers to ask a court to force companies like Apple to let songs bought from iTunes play on other portable devices. The current Senate version would accept such appeals only from companies.

The current version of the bill, however, would guarantee that tunes could play on multiple devices in a way that preserves some copy protection and respects rights established when the work was purchased.

“France has adopted an entirely new and unique approach to managing digital music and films that could be a model for other countries to follow,” Jonathan Arber, a London-based analyst at Ovum, a consulting firm, told the Times. “Everyone will be watching the impact six months down the line to see whether consumers or companies have benefited.”

Government officials said differences between the versions of the bill would be worked out in the next few weeks, with the law taking force within several months. Both versions reduce penalties for piracy to the equivalent of a traffic offense; require software makers to give the government details of the inner workings of their programs; and create an agency to rule on important digital copyright issues, the Times reported.

That agency will decide how many times a digital copy can be made for personal use. If the Senate version stands, it will also ensure that music bought from one online service can be played on any device.

The law will set France apart from many Western countries, especially the United States, in its positions on copyright law, digital copying and piracy.

“This law risks removing all deterrence against piracy,” said Olivia Regnier, who represents record labels as the European regional counsel for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. “If you can download 1000 films and songs and only face a 38-euro fine, that's not much of a penalty.”

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