France Debates Whether to Legalize Downloads

Matt O'Conner
PARIS — Government administrators and lawmakers are fiercely divided about how best to deal with peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted movies and music, with administrators favoring a bill that would make the practice explicitly illegal and lawmakers pushing a compromise that would charge users for downloads.

The debate has been ongoing for several years and came to a head last December when administrators, led by the prime minister, interior minister and cultural minister, submitted a bill that would have outlawed P2P downloads and established penalties for violations.

Parliamentary lawmakers significantly changed the bill, adding language that would have kept downloads legal but established a fee system to help raise funds to compensate artists for downloads of their copyrighted works.

The government ministers responded by withdrawing the bill.

Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres contended that the fee proposal was too convoluted, that it would require a huge bureaucracy to fairly distribute money raised to the correct artists and that the monthly fee of eight to 15 Euros per user would not be nearly enough to compensate copyright owners for lost royalties.

Administrators this week resubmitted the bill. The new version would make downloads illegal, but the penalties for breaking the law have been reduced.

Presently Canada and The Netherlands are two of only a handful of countries that allow for legal downloads of copyrighted digital media for personal use. Most, like the U.S., expressly forbid downloading of copyrighted material unless it is down through a service, such as Apple’s iTines, that has compensation agreements in place with artists.

A final vote on the issue is amended bill is expected March 14.