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Apple gets reprieve from French DRM-busting law

France's controversial copyright law is dealt a major setback as sections are ruled unconstitutional.

France's controversial copyright law, which had threatened to mandate interoperability between Apple Computer and rival online music players' digital rights management, has been dealt a major setback as sections of the legislation are being ruled unconstitutional.

The Dadvsi law, which had initially been intended to free digital music lovers from proprietary DRM, now could be doing the opposite.

Changes to the law, proposed by France's Conseil Constitutionnel, now mean that those found reverse-engineering DRM to aid interoperability between two DRM-incompatible systems--Apple's and Microsoft's, for example--can be fined. The law had previously allowed individuals to circumvent DRM if doing so to enable interoperability. The Conseil removed the provision, saying the definition of interoperability was too vague.

The law will also now introduce a DRM licensing authority for companies using rights protection, which will have the power to order companies such as Apple to provide information to competitors to enable interoperability.

The Conseil has now amended the law to order that, in such cases, those being forced to open their DRM should receive compensation. Apple's dominance in the online music world has been fostered by its FairPlay DRM, which permits songs bought from its iTunes Music Store to be played only with its iPod MP3 players.

The original text of the Dadvsi law also had proposed the decriminalization of file sharing, with fixed penalty fines for those convicted of illegal uploading or downloading of music files. French lawmakers have now removed the provisions, dubbing them unconstitutional.

Instead of a fine of 150 euros ($191) or 38 euros ($48.50) for uploading or downloading music respectively, pirates now face being convicted of a criminal offense and potentially face several years in prison or a fine of 500,000 euros ($638,200).

The changes have impressed few. Consumers group UFC-Que Choisir said that "the last bit of interoperability has been nibbled away by the law." Lionel Thoumyre, head of new technology at artists' rights organization Spedidam, said: "Everyone has lost out. The real problem, sharing copyright-protected work, hasn't been solved."

Estelle Dumout of ZDNet France reported from Paris, and Jo Best of reported from London.