DRM evasion to become illegal in France

— 5:06 PM on March 16, 2006

Today, French MPs voted in the first article of a new copyright infringement bill (in French, bring a translator) that imposes severe sanctions on users circumventing Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems. Suppliers of software or methods used to disable DRM systems will be liable for six months of imprisonment and a €30,000 ($36,102) fine. Individual "hackers" who manage to break copy protection systems will not risk jail time, but they will be subject to a €3,750 ($4,513) fine. Finally, end users who either own or use third-party software designed to circumvent copy protection will be subject to a €750 ($903) fine. Fortunately, the article does make an exception for users who break DRM "for interoperability purposes, or for the regular use of acquired rights to content."

While the new law does seem somewhat drastic, there is no word yet on how the French government plans to enforce it. Suppliers of DRM circumvention software are certainly easy targets, but the vast majority are outside France. As for individual users, there is really no legal way to monitor what they do with their copy-protected content. Unless French police are prepared to run regular dawn raids on French homes, the new law will likely remain a political measure more than a practical one.

Last year, a bill was proposed that would have completely legalized file sharing in France in exchange for a €7/month ($8.42/month) tax on ISP connections. The bill was backed by the French Socialist party, whereas the new DRM bill is backed by the right-wing UMP party.

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