The French government is continuing to push ahead with a new copyright bill that limits what is considered "fair use" of copyright digital works, despite widespread opposition from consumer rights groups, musicians' trade unions and associations of internet users, librarians and archivists.

The National Assembly is scheduled to continue debating the hundreds of amendments to the bill on "Authors' rights and related rights in an information society", abbreviated to DADVSI in French, until Thursday. The assembly will vote on the final text on March 21.

Fair use defined

Amendments proposing exceptions to the fair use limitations have already been agreed for certain groups, such as people with disabilities. But a group of librarians, researchers, teachers and students is calling for the exceptions to be extended to cover teaching and research activities, so that making a copy of a copyright work for use in class, or in a research paper, does not constitute infringement.

Deputies first debated the bill in late December, under emergency procedures that allow the government to dispense with the usual third and fourth readings by senators and deputies. During the December reading, deputies amended the bill, authorising the use of peer-to-peer file-sharing software to download copies of copyright music and adding a corresponding, but optional, levy to the price of internet access to compensate artists.

Legal file-sharing?

That amendment prompted the government to withdraw the bill, but further amendments in favour of a levy were still on the table on March 7 when the Assembly began debating the bill again.

A survey of French attitudes to the proposed levy in early March found that 72 per cent were in favour, rising to 87 per cent among those under 25.

Consumer groups, including the Union Féderale des Consommateurs - Que Choisir and Alliance Public-Artistes, support the optional levy on internet access, and want to see that amendment stay.

Loosen up, Apple

Another proposal that has attracted numerous amendments, some supported by the government, is a requirement that DRM (digital rights management) systems be interoperable, and that DRM developers divulge the information necessary to make rival systems compatible.

Some observers have interpreted this as an attack on Apple's iTunes Music Store, as Apple has so far refused to license the Fairplay technology it uses to restrict the number of computers and iPods on which a track downloaded from the store will play. However, music downloaded from Apple's online store can be burned to a CD, from where it is easily converted to an unrestricted MP3 format playable on the iPod and most other portable music player brands.

Apple representatives in Europe declined to comment on the bill's effect on the company.

The government has apparently withdrawn an amendment that would have criminalised the development of software for getting around DRM systems, which had been slated for a fine of €300,000.