French Court Disallows Copyright Protection

Matt O'Conner
PARIS — A French appeals court has issued a ruling that prohibits the use of Digital Rights Management technology on DVDs. The ruling, in essence, bans the use of DVD-based copyright-protection measures. The case began when a French man was unable to copy a DVD of the film “Mullholland Falls” to a VHS tape. Such private copying is considered a consumer right in France, despite the possibility of abuses such as redistribution of copyrighted materials. With the help of consumer-rights group UFC-Que Choisir, the man sued film companies Les Films Alain Sarde and Studio Canal that produced the DVD. A lower court ruled in favor of the film companies, but the appeals court sided with the man, awarding him nominal damages of 250 euros (around $250) and giving the studios one month to unprotect all of its DVDs — an order that could cost the studios hundreds of thousands of dollars. In its decision, the court cited the fact that the man had intended the copy for his private use; however, the court made no provision for protection against commercial uses of copied material. The court also chastised the film companies for not providing a prominent “copyright protected” label on the DVD case. A representative of UFC-Que Choisir said the organization plans to use the court’s decision to pursue action against other DVD makers. Jean-Yves Mirski, delegate general of France’s Video Producer’s Association, called the decision worrisome and said it “directly contradicts the European Copyright Directive.” He added that his group may appeal the decision after a thorough review. This is not the first time French courts have rejected conventional wisdom regarding electronic media, freedoms and copyrights. In January, a French court ruled that Google could not sell trademark names as keywords. More recently, French security researcher Guillaume Tena was fined 5,000 euros for posting a warning about a software security hole he had discovered through reverse engineering.