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French investigators probe copy-protected CDs

French authorities have launched an investigation of EMI France and Fnac, France’s largest music retailer, over anti-copying technology included on CDs that allegedly renders them unplayable on some systems, CNET News reported.

A magistrate judge ordered the investigation following a review of consumer complaints by a local division of the Bureau of Competition’s antifraud unit (DDCCRF).

The move is among the most threatening actions yet taken in Europe against record labels and retailers over anti-copy technology.

The labels want to prevent consumers from making direct copies of CDs into unprotected computer files, such as MP3s, which can then be distributed over the Internet and peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa.

The move has led to a sharp backlash from consumers who fear they may lose the ability to make personal backup copies of CDs, something that’s currently allowed under copyright laws in some countries, including France. In addition, such digital rights management technology has been linked to problems playing back discs on some devices.

French regulators were alerted to the playback problems in September 2003 by a consumer group known as UFC-Que Choisir, which submitted numerous complaints from CD buyers to the Hauts-de-Seine bureau of the DDCCRF.

The DDCCRF carried out its own tests, and a judge subsequently ordered a judicial examination of EMI Music France and Fnac on charges of fraud. The charges carry possible prison terms of up to two years for company executives, and a fine of about $45,000. UFC has also demanded that the discs be withdrawn from the market.

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