France's Constitutional Council has made an already strict copyright law even tougher, modifying three articles of the law and striking out a fourth in a review of its constitutionality.
The changes mean that unauthorised sharing of copyright files such as music tracks will become a criminal offence, while those who reverse-engineer DRM (digital rights management) systems in order to develop interoperable software will face six months in prison and a fine of €30,000 (about £20,500).
After the National Assembly and the Senate approved the law on 30 June, members of the opposition Socialist Party called on the Council to rule the law unconstitutional, citing procedural irregularities in debate, and problems with 11 of the text's articles. However, their appeal backfired: the Council refused to strike down the law in its entirety, and while it accepted their complaints about four of the disputed articles, the effect of the remedies it proposes is far from what the Socialists intended.
The ruling has dismayed campaigners against the law, who saw the constitutional review as a last chance to block the law before President Jacques Chirac signed it into effect.
"The decision will satisfy the major record, film and proprietary software companies. The public, the free software community and the artists are the losers in this affair," said Christophe Espern, of copyright reform campaign group EUCD.info.
Aziz Ridouan, president of the Association of Audio Surfers, wrote that as a result of French Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres' law, "12 million French surfers risk five years in prison and a fine of €500,000 [£340,000] each time they download a file over the internet."