French Consider Severe Digital Restrictions

By Jon Newton 12/7/05

Creating your own compilations from a CD; extracting your favourite track to listen to it on your computer; transferring it onto an mp3 player; lending a CD to a friend; reading a DVD with free software or duplicating it to be able to enjoy it at home and in your country house - common practices, at the moment perfectly legal in France.

But the French government plans to forbid them all. In fact, the Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society Bill - DADVSI (n°1206 in the French legal code) - currently making its way through the French National Assembly, is worrying a number of groups in France, from p2p users to webcasters and free software designers.

Jon Newton

They’re particularly concerned that the French government seems to be trying to force it through in a hurry, with the crucial vote probably slated for December 23, the day before Christmas is celebrated in France and a day most legislators are expected to absent themselves.

In addition to killing off the right to private copying, the DADVSI bill would also make the simple act of reading a DVD with software that's not authorized by the DVD editor punishable with up to a three-year jail sentence and a fine of 300,000 euros. Such a scenario would be considered an instance of copyright infringement.

The act of converting to mp3 format a "protected [proprietary]" file downloaded from the FNAC website [FNAC is a major book and media retail concern] is also considered infringement, as is the publishing of technical information (such as source code) allowing or making it easier to perform such conversions. In this way, the DADVSI bill prohibits the design, distribution and use of free software that would allow accessing protected work. If the bill is approved in its present state, it'll be illegal to use software such VLC or any other multimedia player using the DeCSS algorithm, which will be forbidden.

Knowingly bringing to light, directly or indirectly, a software tool which might allow one to bypass DRM devices is also punished, whether or not the main purpose of such a tool is to bypass copyright protection.

Freedom of expression, not only of free-software authors, but also of computer security researchers, academics and journalists, is thus directly threatened.

Interestingly, while DADVSI is based on the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD), the EU directive itself doesn't require this, possibly because it leaves the door open to censorship.

French software authors can thank an amendment initiated by Vivendi Universal/SACEM/BSA/FT Division Contenus for this development.

Vivendi is, of course, a member of the infamous Big Four Organized Music family, the others being Sony BMG (Japan, Germany), EMI (Britain) and Warner Music (US).

Disclosing, directly or indirectly, the existence of a tool or a method which allows one to remove or alter information attached to a digital copy of a document to trace it's usage is also punished by law. So from tomorrow onwards, you could risk a three-year jail sentence for publishing a study that shows a digital signature method used by the recording industry to be ineffective.

DMCA, anyone?

With regard to web radios, "Fréquence Electro", a media work group of the Technopol Paris association, as well as several non-commercial webcasters, including Electrone, Let’s Go Zik, and Radio 404, are worrying how this will affect their sector. Under DADVSI, they'll be obliged to broadcast with technologies containing DRM, principally Real Player and Windows Media.

Apart from anything else, these kinds of formats are very expensive because of licensing costs, which means most independent web radios in France will be financially incapable of complying with the proposed law.

But that to one side, it seems counterproductive for France to impose technologies provided by two companies which are monopolizing the worldwide market of DRM services, while on the other hand the European Union is trying to bust Microsoft's domination.

Moreover, the bill could further divide French society between those who have access to digital information and those who don't, given that for the first time, authors, editors and producers will be able to deny private copying to those who haven't bought the appropriate user license.

In concrete terms, these conditions change the right to read into an exclusive right since usage control software, by its very nature, uses access control mechanisms. And without access, you can't read.

In fact, only users who can afford to purchase a user license will be able to read an original or private copy, even though the right to access published work or the right to read don't depend on the author's monopoly.

Stay tuned.


Jon Newton is the editor of and is a regular contributer to MP3 Newswire. Jon's site is devoted to the politics of digital music and his insights as well as those of his co-writers can be read there. We urge you to explore it.

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The Fluidity of P2P

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