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French bill casts chill on open-source DRM & P2P

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On May 4, the French Senate will debate a copyright bill that is widely expected to have a chilling effect on the development and distribution of open-source software for digital rights management (DRM) or P2P (peer-to-peer) file-sharing. That's because the bill's provisions include a penalty of up to three years in prison and a fine of $363,171 for publishing, distributing or promoting software in France that is "manifestly intended" for the unauthorized distribution of copyright works.

The developers of the open-source multimedia player VLC, which can read DRM-protected DVDs, consider themselves targeted. But the legal uncertainty over the term manifestly intended makes the bill's coverage so broad that it could even cover the open-source Web server Apache, which hosts over 60% of Web sites, opponents of the bill say. Open-source projects are thought to be more vulnerable than commercial operations because they typically have few resources at their disposal to defend legal actions.

France has been a strong supporter of open-source software, with many publicly funded bodies either using it or developing it. Legislation that punishes development and distribution of open-source applications could weaken projects based there, and tarnish the image of the open-source movement with users.

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