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France votes to legalize flat-fee P2P downloads

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The French legislature has voted to amend the nation's copyright law to legalize internet file sharing with a pot of money being raised, and divided up, to compensate artists and other right holders.

Parliament voted 30-28 to add the following statement, tabled by UMP Alain Suguenot, to article L-122-5: "Authors cannot forbid the reproductions of Works that are made on any format from an online communication service when they are intented to be used privately and when they do not imply commercial means directly or indirectly."

The lobby groups that proposed the amendment, the Association of Audionautes and the Artist-Public Alliance, want a €2 to €5 a month levy on ISPs to compensate rights holders.

Uploading would remain illegal.

In addition, broadband users would be permitted to opt out, but wouldn't enjoy the benefits, losing the right to download copyright material.

The Parliament's vote is at odds with the position taken by the French government and the EU, which want to criminalize fire sharers, and hope the problem of leakage, and therefore compensation, go away.

The French culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres has said the government will fight the vote.

The Parliament has voted to extend an old idea, traditionally deployed to solve copyright concerns with new technology, into the digital age. Now called "digital media access license", a "digital pool", an "ACS", or "alternative compensation system", or simply a "flat fee, the mechanism is used successfully to compensate rights holders for radio play and public broadcasts (for example, in a bar) and songwriters.

It's an idea that's rarely been seen in the mainstream media, until now, but it has been discussed many times here at El Reg, and advocated by your reporter, as a way of ending the sterile posturing between the copyright and anti-copyright camps. A compulsory licensed was proposed to a Congressional committee as far back as 2000, by of all people, Senator Orrin Hatch, before he was wooed by the Recording Industry Ass. of America.

For even casual music lovers, the figures are compelling.

Professor Terry Fisher of the Harvard Law School's Berkman Center think tank calculated that a fee of $5 per month on a broadband connection would compensate the recording and movie industries for 20 per cent of their current revenue. In an interview last year Jim Griffin pointed out that the US consumer has rarely spent more than $5 per head on music, so the recording rights lobby cannot plausibly claim to be being robbed.

As resilient CD sales have demonstrated, despite commonplace P2P file sharing, there's a market for added value, whether it be packaging, better quality audio, or simply a tangible product. The only parties who fear such a move are parties who fear they can't add value. For all the utopian calls for "Free Culture", the public has little trouble parting with its money when that value is perceived. ®

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