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French copyright compromise advances

But lawmakers walk out on talks

A committee convened to determine a compromise draft of a French copyright law had no trouble reaching a decision today - after opposition lawmakers walked out of the meeting. The compromise text will be submitted to the French Senate and the French National Assembly for vote on 30 June.

The copyright bill provoked controversy with its requirement that companies using DRM (digital rights management) technologies to protect music downloads open up their technology to competitors wishing to create interoperable systems. Apple, operator of the successful iTunes Music Store, accused the National Assembly of "state-sponsored piracy" when deputies voted to give music buyers freedom to listen to tracks they had purchased on the equipment of their choice.

The bill, formally titled "Authors' rights and related rights in an information society”, had a stormy passage through the Senate and the Assembly, in part because the government used emergency procedures to limit each house to a single reading of the bill instead of the usual two. The drafts of the bill voted by each house differed significantly, obliging lawmakers to convene today's commission of 12 members drawn from government and opposition sides of both houses to work out the differences.

However, four opposition representatives deserted the commission meeting after only an hour of discussion, according to socialist deputy Christian Paul, one of those who walked out.

The opposition members left after government representatives presented 55 previously undiscussed amendments to the bill at the opening of the commission meeting, Paul wrote in his blog.

Their action drew an immediate riposte from deputy Christian Vanneste, a member of the ruling UMP party, who wrote in his own blog that the socialist group's "theatrics" served only to hide their party's internal disagreements.

Vanneste, the spokesman for the commission, said that the compromise text represents "a true balance between respect for French-style authors' rights, recognition of internet users' freedom to use works as they wish through interoperability requirements and the right to make personal copies, and the legitimate wish to see growth in the businesses linked to culture and the internet, and in the number of jobs they generate."

The compromise text retains a requirement that companies using DRM technology, for example to prevent copying of downloaded songs, provide information necessary for rivals to develop compatible players or music stores. But it delegates responsibility for interpreting and enforcing this rule to a new regulatory authority created for the purpose.

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