March against new French copyright law

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Sunday, May 7, 2006

At the head of the march, protesters walked clad as prisoners, prosecuted by DRM publishers and "major" record companies (background: column of the Bastille)

Paris, France - Protesters marched denouncing the new copyright bill, known as DADVSI. Opponents to the bill contend that the broad civil and criminal penalties that it enacts in order to fight illegal online copying of copyrighted works will in fact have a chilling effect on a variety of unrelated developments, especially in free software. More than 160,000 people signed the anti-DADVSI petition from EUCD.info, a watchdog group fighting developments of the EU Copyright Directive.

Deputy Martine Billard (Greens, Paris), one of the main debaters when the bill was before the National Assembly, marched in opposition

The protest, uniting elected officials, representatives from computing and Internet organisations, political groups, and simple citizens, walked in a festive and peaceful atmosphere from the Place de la Bastille (site of the former royal prison) to the Ministry of Culture. It was organized by a variety of associations, including StopDRM,APRIL , the Odebi league, Audionautes, various free software and Linux user groups, and sponsored by the French Communist Party and its young adult affiliate organisation, the youngs of the French Socialist Party, the youngs of the centrist Union for French Democracy, the young Greens. All the sponsors of this march are listed here. Depending on estimates, between 300 and 800 people marched, a low number by French standards.

According to opponents of the bill, designers of DRM systems could have computer security experts prosecuted for publishing information about security lapses in DRM systems. The sign translates to "I explained a security flaw".

The DADVSI law, among other issues, enacts an extensive protection of copyrighted content online and a protection of digital rights management techniques, including civil and criminal penalties for help in circumventing them. Opponents contend that the bill, depending on how it is amended in the French Senate, could in effect criminalise the writing of players compatible with new online distribution formats for music, video or even text, and thus make such content unplayable on systems such as Linux, thereby generating a monopoly for established suppliers.

Supporters of the bill, such as cinema and recording industry groups, contend that strong measures are needed to thwart online copying, which, according to them, is responsible for important losses of sales and revenue. They deny the risks for free software and other freedoms, claiming that, despite vague provisions, the law will be enforced wisely by the judiciary. They claim that new online legal commercial downloading platforms will flourish when peer-to-peer copying has stopped.

The bill is due to be examined in the Senate this week. Then, under the fast track procedure requested by the government, it may be signed into law by president Jacques Chirac after a mixed commission merges the text from the Senate and the lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly. Opponents have already indicated they would mount a constitutional challenge before the Constitutional Council. The bill, when it was examined by the National Assembly, proved divisive; the ruling UMP party was split on the issue, some even sponsoring a "legal licence" which would enable French Internet users to copy copyrighted content legally, provided they would pay a flat fee which would be split between the rights holder.

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At the end of the march, some protesters sent balloons into the sky over the Palais Royal, where the Ministry of Culture is located

Protesters, as well as deputies from all parties, contend that major lobbies influenced the bill’s passage. Some amendments were nicknamed Vivendi Universal, from the name of a major record company that allegedly suggested it. Protesters recalled that Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres was convicted of money laundering in 2004.

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