French distribs face suit over DVD copies

Lawyers seeking damages of $1,258 per participant

PARIS — Gaul’s major DVD distribs are to be hauled before a judge for alleged breach of France’s laws allowing private individuals to copy discs.

On Monday Gallic consumers were invited to join France’s first such class action against TF1 Video, Fox Pathe Europa, Buena Vista, Warner Home Video, Gaumont Columbia and Universal, which together rep 85% of the Gallic homevideo market.

Lawyers will seek damages of $1,258 per participant for a fee of $15 each. The Internet-based campaign expects its ranks of some 100-odd plaintiffs to be swelled by media coverage.

“Video distributors are very worried about this initiative,” claimed Emmanuel Jacques, leading a team of lawyers on the case. “They know the law is against them.”

The suit concerns technological measures that prevent consumers making copies of CDs or DVDs. The technology prevents pirates ripping off music and movies, but it also prevents individual consumers from exercising a paid-for right to make copies for their private use, as enshrined in French law.

Last year $226.5 million was levied via a “private copy” tax on blank video and audio support sales. A third of the money went to actors and performers, a third to authors and the rest to distributors.

“They can’t have it both ways,” Jacques told Daily Variety on Monday. “It is unfair to consumers to make them pay a tax and then prevent them from making copies.”

Two months ago, an appeal court ruled in favor of a consumer org that took StudioCanal to court for using technology that made it impossible to copy a DVD of David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.”

In the new class action, lawyers are claiming three counts of prejudice to the consumer: The technology prevents them from making copies. The labeling does not warn them the DVD contains such technology. It wrongly warns consumers that making copies is illegal.

A spokesman for France’s Video Distributors Union was unavailable for comment.