France's attempts to tighten its Internet piracy law were once again in disarray Thursday, after the government was forced to backtrack over a key point of its planned legislation.
Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres had withdrawn the first article of his online copyright bill earlier this week, after rebel government lawmakers helped to pass amendments in December that would legalize online file-sharing.
Then, threatened with a constitutional challenge by opposition Socialists, Donnedieu de Vabres reinstated the article late Wednesday, including the amendments creating a so-called "global license" — condemned by the music industry and leading artists as opening the door to state-endorsed piracy.
Under the global license amendments, vigorously defended by consumer groups, Internet users would be allowed to download as much music and video as they want from free file-sharing sites in exchange for a monthly fee of a few euros (dollars), billed via their Internet service provider.
The governing center-right Union for a Popular Movement is now urging its deputies to vote against the amendments that many backed in the original December vote.
"This isn't a U-turn," Donnedieu de Vabres said Thursday. "It's a sign of our determination to see this through."
The culture minister's compromise draft lightens the penalties for ordinary Internet users who pirate music or movies, removing the jail terms originally proposed and slashing maximum fines to euro150 (US$180) from euro300,000 (US$360,000).
In another gesture to consumer advocates, online stores would have to sell music and movies in formats that can be played on all kinds of devices — a requirement that could open the way for legal challenges against sites like Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes, which uses an exclusive format that can only be played on the company's own iPod devices.
But the proposals would also strengthen legal protection for anti-copy technologies known as DRMs, shielding them from challenge under French laws that grant consumers the right to make copies of music and film for private use.
Two of France's leading music industry bodies urged lawmakers to push ahead with adoption of the new law — but without the file-sharing amendments.
Fierce exchanges over the constitutionality of the bill's handling continued to dominate the parliamentary debate into Thursday afternoon, raising the likelihood of a further delay in the law, the long-overdue implementation of a 2001 EU directive.