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Culture

Inquiry set for French file-sharing plan

Government commissions slated to question culture minister on controversial law that would legalize file-sharing in France.

The French government is moving ahead with plans for a controversial law that would legalize file-sharing of music and films, a move that could undo years of antipiracy work by the entertainment industry.

France's Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres is set to be questioned about the draft on Wednesday by the parliamentary commission for cultural affairs and the commission for economic affairs.

The project has worried the music, film and television industries because it would make France the first country to allow unlimited peer-to-peer downloading for a flat fee of several euros a month.

File-sharing lets consumers swap songs and movies without paying for them. Some legalized versions of peer-to-peer networks are starting to crop up, including one expected to be launched soon in Germany by Warner Bros.

"We are concerned and monitoring the situation closely," Francine Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry music trade group said on Friday. "But it has a long way to go before it becomes law."

The draft law, which originally aimed to tackle online piracy, is backed by consumer groups in France but heavily opposed by such companies as Vivendi Universal, which owns Universal Music, the world's biggest record company, and a stake in film and TV company NBC Universal.

French cinema and music trading associations together with rock stars such as Johnny Hallyday have spoken out against the law, arguing it would kill their work.

In December, the French government put forward a measure that aimed to clamp down on users sharing pirated material over the Internet by introducing stiffer punishments such as fines of up to 300,000 euros ($362,200) and prison sentences of up to three years.

But deputies, both from the ruling conservatives and the opposition Socialists, threw the planned law off course at the end of December by adding amendments that would legalize file-sharing in exchange for a fee to cover a licensing charge.

"Everything we're hearing from the government is that it won't happen," said Geraldine Moloney, a spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association in Europe.

"If it did, it would have an impact on the film community worldwide, but the whole industry is mobilized against it," she added.

Some legal experts have said the amended draft law, which calls for a "compulsory license" or "global license" could violate European Union intellectual property laws.

"The 'compulsory license' would replace the fast-growing legitimate online market in France by an 'average' payment which would by no means remunerate the creation of music and investments made by the recording industry," the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said.

Story Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.