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French bill amendments could help Apple

Lawmakers debate copyright law

French legislators may can proposals to require online music retailers to use interoperable DRM (digital rights management) systems to protect their stock when a copyright bill is debated today.

A committee of the French Senate has recommended to senators that they amend the bill to remove a requirement that makers and users of DRM (digital rights management) systems provide technical details to their competitors to enable the development of interoperable systems.

The measure, proposed by the French National Assembly, is widely seen as an attack on Apple which, with its iPod music player and iTunes Music Store service, has taken a dominant share of the music download market. Apple refuses to license its FairPlay DRM system to other companies, but the bill as voted by the assembly would oblige it to divulge information enabling the creation of interoperable systems.

If senators follow the guidance of the Senate Commission on Cultural Affairs, then the interoperability requirement could disappear from the bill on "Authors' rights and related rights in an information society," known by its abbreviated name DADVSI in French. The commission proposed 40 amendments to the bill, and senators have already proposed more than 180 others.

French open-source campaigners say that in attempting to amend the interoperability requirement, the commission has confused existing patent and copyright laws. The commission's amendments may inadvertently extend patent protection to DRM software, according to the French Association of Users of Linux and Free Software. Currently, DRM software cannot be patented under French law, although its code is protected by copyright.

Another group upset by the commission's amendments is the ObjectWeb consortium, which develops open-source middleware.

ObjectWeb warns that the bill's provisions could expose developers of open-source middleware to unintended legal consequences. The bill calls for fines and prison sentences for the publishers or distributors of software manifestly intended for the unauthorised distribution of copyright works, without clearly defining what "manifestly intended" means.

The bill received the approval of the French National Assembly on 21 March. If the Senate approves the bill at the conclusion of its debates on 4, 9 and 10 May, the bill could become law after just two readings instead of the usual four: the government is rushing the text through parliament under special emergency procedures.

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