Global Economics

France's iTunes Law Weakened by Court


France's controversial copyright law, which had threatened to mandate interoperability between Apple and rival online music players' DRM, has been dealt a major setback with sections of the legislation being ruled unconstitutional.

The Dadvsi law, which had initially been intended to free digital music lovers from proprietary DRM, now seems to be doing the opposite.

Changes to the law, proposed by France's Conseil Constitutionnel, now mean that those found reverse-engineering DRM to aid interoperability between two DRM-incompatible systems - Apple's and Microsoft's for example - can now be fined. The law had previously allowed individuals to circumvent DRM if doing so to enable interoperability. The Conseil removed the provision, saying the definition of interoperability was too vague.

The law will also now introduce a DRM licensing authority for companies using rights protection, which will have the power to order companies such as Apple to provide information to competitors to enable interoperability.

The Conseil has now amended the law to order that, in such cases, those being forced to open their DRM should receive compensation. Apple's dominance in the online music world has been fostered by its FairPlay DRM, which permits songs bought from its iTunes Music Store to be played only with its iPod MP3 players.

The original text of the Dadvsi law had also proposed the decriminalisation of file-sharing, with fixed penalty fines for those convicted of illegal uploading or downloading of music files. French lawmakers have now removed the provisions, dubbing them unconstitutional.

Instead of a ??150 or ??38 fine for up- or downloading music respectively, pirates now face being convicted of a criminal offence and potentially facing several years in prison or a fine of ??500,000.

The changes have impressed few. Consumers group UFC-Que Choisir said "the last bit of interoperability has been nibbled away by the law", while Lionel Thoumyre, head of new technology at artists rights organisation Spedidam, said: "Everyone has lost out. The real problem, sharing copyright-protected work, hasn't been solved."

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