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5/11/2006
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French Senate Waters Down DRM-Interop Bill

The French Senate bowed to intense lobbying pressure, passing a watered down digital copyright bill that replaces a DRM-interoperability requirement with what critics see as a useless and "irresponsible" bureaucratic-review process.

PARIS — The French Senate bowed to intense lobbying pressure, approving a watered down digital copyright bill that differs significantly from the controversial version passed at the National Assembly last March.

The new bill is likely to give Apple Computers enough leeway to keep its proprieatry digital rights management (DRM) system used in iTunes and iPod. But consumer advocates and developers of open source software here have called the Senate action late Wednesday (May 10) "irresponsible" for "having thrown away most of the work done by the National Assembly."

The bill's most controversial element, requiring "interoperability," survived the Senate debate. But the new bill no longer demands that companies like Apple give details of their DRM system to those who wish to develop interoperable systems—as stipulated initially in legislation passed by the National Assembly.

Instead, the Senate reached a compromise by adding another bureaucratic layer: creation of a new regulatory authority that would mediate requests for interoperability.

The French government will give the agency the power to order companies to share details of their DRM system, but companies will be able to refuse to do so as long as their DRM systems are approved by the author or copyright holder.

A critic of the bill complained, "Now, instead of forcing a publisher [of music or movies] to accept free competition with its DRM, the bill says that you must talk to the commission first. Then, the commission will politely ask the questions to the publisher...."

Critics of the Senate version called it "dangerous" because it can force a software publisher to integrate DRM into software "that can be used to distribute copyrighted works." The open source community consider peer-to-peer file sharing essential to their work. They said the mandate to include DRM in software can be "very harmful."

The version approved by the Senate will now go to a conference committee to iron out differences between the two versions.

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