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French Parliament Approves DRM Bill

French Parliament Approves DRM Bill

by , 11:55 AM EST, March 21st, 2006

France has tentatively approved its bill intended to offer protection for music and video copyright holders and to open proprietary Digital Rights Management (DRM) formats like Apple's FairPlay. The bill now moves on to the French Senate for approval, which is likely to take several weeks.

One aspect of the bill is aimed at prohibiting proprietary copy protection schemes that limit files to playing on only one brand of device. Such a clause could potentially force Apple, Sony, Microsoft, and any other company that uses its own proprietary formats to open them to competitors. The proposed law does not explicitly require companies to immediately open their formats, but does include provisions so that anyone can petition the courts to impose compliance.

The bill also includes several controls over DRM related software, and prohibits owning or using any application that can bypass copy protection. Unfortunately, the wording is vague enough that Apple's iTunes application could be considered an illegal piece of software. The FairPlay copy protection can be bypassed by burning songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store to a CD, and then re-importing them into iTunes or any other music jukebox application.

Penalties in the bill include:

  • 38 for the unauthorized downloading of a copyright-protected work.
  • 150 for sharing a copyrighted work with someone else.
  • 750 for possessing or using an application that bypasses copyright protection.
  • 3,750 for developing software or providing information about bypassing copyright protection.
  • 30,000 and 6 months in prison for distributing applications or technology that bypasses copyright protection.
  • 300,000 and up to 3 years in prison for distributing any peer to peer software which knowingly promotes piracy.

It's unclear how Apple and other companies will respond to the legislation if it passes the French Senate. Companies may go ahead and offer the specification for their DRM technology to competitors, although that seems unlikely. Developing a "French Version" and a "Rest of the World Version" of music download stores, MP3 players, and other related technologies is also an option, but seems amazingly cumbersome for companies to manage.

Pulling out of the French market is also an option, but at a potentially high price: French consumers are some of the most active of European online music purchasers.

According to the BBC, France is concerned about monopoly control over the music market. Alexander Ross, music partner at the media and technology practice, Wiggin, commented "It is an attempt to level the playing field in terms of the consumer experience."

Representatives from Apple were not available for comment.

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