Gaul vote could legalize downloading

PARIS — Free peer-to-peer sharing of music and movies on the Internet could become legal in Gaul in the wake of an early-morning vote Thursday that followed heated debate.

The amendment is attached to a much-disputed bill on intellectual copyright under debate in Parliament that has pitted political parties against each other.

If it survives, it will be a blow to the entertainment industry, which is increasingly using the courts to fight online piracy. Media companies such as Disney and Viacom say Internet piracy will cost them $5 billion in revenue this year.

The infighting centers on a proposal in the copyright bill that would allow media companies to encrypt CDs and DVDs to prevent users from copying files to a computer hard drive. The bill would, in effect, make copying akin to counterfeiting, punishable with a $355,000 fine and up to three years in prison.

The amendment stipulates that authors cannot forbid the online dissemination of their works in any format provided downloads are meant for private use only and that there is no direct or indirect commercial exploitation.

In this respect, it is similar to a ruling in Canada that made downloading legal but uploading illegal.

The French amendment suggests that users who download P2P or other files would pay a royalty fee to Internet providers, who would in turn pay fees to Sacem, the group that handles artists’ royalties. There is no suggested amount for the fee.

French industryites called on the government to take swift action to prevent the measure from becoming law.

Several cinema and audiovisual orgs banded together to put out a statement “inviting the government to work with the parliament to rapidly find a solution to re-establish equilibrium between the interests of rights holders and consumers.”

Politicians “used this vote to show their independence from the government, but they don’t know what they are doing,” Nicolas Seydoux, head of French major Gaumont, said in an interview on French radio. “We are not trying to ban anything, just to make sure the work of others isn’t stolen.”

The amendment, which was voted in 28 to 30, with a large majority of the 577 members in the lower house not present, was backed by Gaul’s Socialist Party and the center-right Christian Democratic party.

The government can overturn the amendment either by reopening the debate or by voting it down in the Senate.

Culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres has already asked Parliament to reopen the debate, which was due to take place late Thursday through Friday morning.

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