France debates legalising Internet downloads

7th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 7, 2006 (AFP) - The French government and MPs prepared to do battle Tuesday over a digital copyright bill that could clear the way for the legal downloading of music and movie files from the Internet.

PARIS, March 7, 2006 (AFP) - The French government and MPs prepared to do battle Tuesday over a digital copyright bill that could clear the way for the legal downloading of music and movie files from the Internet.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's centre-right government is trying to block MPs from voting to give such permission to Internet users, who would pay a small extra monthly fee to their Internet service provider for the right.

Representatives from both the ruling UMP party and the opposition benches had already voted to adopt the download fee idea in December while debating an original version of the bill.

As a result, Villepin hastily withdrew the original bill and had it slightly modified for re-submission to parliament Tuesday.

Several days of debate are scheduled before a vote due on March 14.

If the downloading fee becomes law, France would join a small number of Western countries -- among them Canada and the Netherlands -- which allow consumers to legally make copies of copyrighted digital files for private use.

Many other countries, most notably the United States, take an opposing view and have passed legislation expressly outlawing the practice.

On Monday, in a sign of the government's determination to quash the fee idea, Villepin's administration withdrew the article in the bill to which was attached the two amendments that would have legalised downloads.

The parliamentary leader of the opposition Socialists, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said the government's strong-arm tactics reeked of "panic".

The French government -- which is trying to bring its copyright laws into line with a 2001 EU directive -- modified the fines stipulated in its bill after December's vote.

The fine for a first-time offender downloading tunes or a film was reduced to 38 euros, with higher penalties for those who broke copyright protection on a commercial DVD or who made public "hacks" to get around protections.

Other articles in the bill provide for the establishment of a government body that would decide how many private copies of a digital work an individual can make and what copyright exceptions should exist for libraries, journalists and handicapped people.

Big music companies and a few famous French singers, veteran rocker Johnny Hallyday among them, are hostile to a download licence for Internet users -- expected to amount to, say, eight or 12 euros -- saying it would not nearly compensate them for the royalties they earn from more traditional music sales.

But French consumer groups -- and quite a few MPs -- counter that the Internet age has changed consumer habits, and an estimated eight to 10 million French people, out of a population of 60 million, download files anyway.

A new economic model is needed, they argue, and a download fee would provide money to artists who lose out entirely under current practices.

"The government bill is wrong to attack the private exchanges between consumers and to aim to create by decree new fines," one consumer group, UFC-Que Choisir, said in a statement.

"It is also wrong to submit the private use of works bought by consumers to a unilateral control by companies that wipes out the notion and spirit of private-use copying" up to now enshrined in French law, it added.

Both sides of the debate have acknowledged that platforms such as Apple's Music Store do provide legal downloads on a pay-per-file basis.

But they also note that such files are not always playable on a variety of machines (for instance Apple music files will only play on iPods), limiting their appeal -- and possibly even breaching French anti-competition law.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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