French Parliament Approves Web File Sharing

PARIS — The French Parliament passed an amendment late last week to allow the free online sharing of music and movies for private use, much to the chagrin of media companies and vocal critics within the French government.

France would become the first European country to officially legalize peer-to-peer downloading if the amendment passes into law, creating a potential roadblock for international media companies like Walt Disney Co. and Viacom that have used courts throughout the globe to prosecute people for sharing music and movies online.

Alain Suguenot, a deputy from the ruling Union for a Popular Movement, introduced the amendment as an attachment to a French bill on intellectual property rights. Without the amendment the French bill would make file sharing, even for private use, punishable by up to three years in prison and fines up $355,000.

In the amendment’s text, Suguenot argues 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.”

Angered by the vote, Nicolas Seydoux, CEO of French cinema company Gaumont SA, said the Parliament was playing games with a law that could cost entertainment companies billions of dollars every year.

“The deputies [in Parliament] used this vote to show their independence from the government, but they don't know what they are doing,” Seydoux said during an interview on France Inter radio. “We are not trying to ban anything, just to make sure the work of others isn't stolen.”

French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres has said he will reopen debate in the Senate this week in an attempt to shut the amendment down.