French Parliament Votes to Allow Web File Sharing (Update1)
Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The French Parliament voted last night to allow free sharing of music and movies on the Internet, setting up a conflict with both the French government and with media companies.
If the amendment survives, France would be the first country to legalize so called peer-to-peer downloading, said Jean-Baptiste Soufron, legal counsel to the Association of Audionautes, a French group that defends people accused of improperly sharing music files.
The law would be a blow to media companies that increasingly use the courts worldwide to sue people for downloading or sharing music and movie files. Entertainment companies such as Walt Disney Co., Viacom Inc. and News Corp.'s Fox say free downloading of unauthorized copies of TV shows and movies before they are released on DVD will cost them $5 billion in revenue this year.
``The deputies used this vote to show their independence from the government, but they don't know what they are doing,'' Nicolas Seydoux, chief executive of French cinema company Gaumont SA, said in an interview on France Inter radio. ``We are not trying to ban anything, just to make sure the work of others isn't stolen.''
The government can overturn the amendment, either by re- opening debate or if the Senate votes it down when the bill moves to the upper house. French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres has asked that parliament re-open debate on the amendment today, Agence France Presse reported.
The amendment, which is attached to a bill on intellectual property rights, states that ``authors cannot forbid the reproduction of works that are made on any format from an online communications service when they are intended to be used privately'' and not for commercial use.
Parliament is debating a bill that would transpose a 2001 European Union directive on intellectual rights into French law. The government had introduced articles into the bill that would make file-sharing akin to counterfeiting, punishable by prison sentences of up to three years and fines of up to 300,000 euros ($355,000).
Consumer groups such as UFC-Que Choisir had protested the government's proposed bill.
The amendment voted at about midnight yesterday, which would replace the contested articles, was introduced by Alain Suguenot, a deputy from the ruling Union for a Popular Movement.
The amendment was approved 30 to 28, with 22 members of the UMP voting in favor. While there are 577 members of the lower house, few were present for last night's vote.
``The vote puts the livelihoods of people in the music and film industry at risk,'' Gaumont's Seydoux said.
Soufron of Audionautes said any system that allowed unlimited downloading could be accompanied by a system similar to the royalty tax that exists for blank compact disks and DVDs.
Under the amendment, Internet service providers would pay part of their revenue to Sacem, a group that has handled artists' royalties since 1851, Soufron said. Details of the payments are not in the amendment. The group redistributed 578 million euros to musicians last year.
Legal music downloading sites such as Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes have French-language sites, as do major music companies such as Vivendi Universal SA. Last night's amendment would allow someone having bought a song from one of those sites to share it with family or friends.