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If you were to download a copy of a copyrighted book through BitTorrent, you might be accused of stealing. And as piracy becomes a larger problem for publishers, you might even find yourself in court facing a lawsuit.

But there's good news: if you're the government, you don't have anything to worry about.

At least that will be the case in France, where lawmakers have passed a law that allows the French government to steal the rights to books published before 2001. The Register details:

Scribes have just six months to opt-out, or lose their moral rights and the ability to determine a price for their work.

It's essentially a Compulsory Purchase Order for intellectual property - the author's work is no longer their own. Ownership is instead transferred to a quango answering to the French Ministry of Culture, which is authorised to make it digitally available. Publishers are the big beneficiaries.

It sounds bad, and it is. How bad? Well, it takes a lot to bring those who are typically staunch supporters of copyright (like authors) together with those who wouldn't mind if copyright went away (like Pirate Party members). But that's precisely what the French government has managed to do. If only it were an accomplishment worth celebrating.

The French Free Software movement is calling the law "legalised piracy," and they're right. And if you think this is just some crazy situation that will only affect France, think again. The law applies to works published in France, so plenty of authors who aren't French could soon find that they no longer own the rights to their works in the country that The Register notes ironically "prides itself as the home of creators' rights."

The good news is that French bureaucrats will have little choice but to deal with the uproar this new law has created. The bad news is that even under pressure, bureaucrats rarely like to give up power, so it's hard to see this law being done away with in its entirety. Which highlights why it's so important to defeat bad legislation (like SOPA) before it's passed into law.

What's even more important, however, is to remember that these sorts of laws are coming from the very same governments that so many in the tech community sadly run to when they want something. Whether it's "network neutrality" or a less evil Google, France's atrocious new law is just the latest proof that you shouldn't trust the fox to guard the chicken coop, particularly when you're the chicken.

Patricio Robles

Published 29 February, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2378 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Didier

Hi.

I am not an expert by far (I am actually not related to any stakeholder in this debate), but based on a quick search (I was quite shocked reading your piece, and wanted to find out more), it appears that your article doesn't seem to represent the reality of the law.

Among other points, it appears that:
- this law applies only to books which are no longer commercially available for in any form (paper or online)
- authors can opt-out at any time, not just in the first 6 months, recovering full intellectual property rights
- authors whose work becomes part of this will perceive monetary compensation from whatever is collected on their behalf (i.e., revenue which they would not have collected as by definition their work is no longer commercially available)

Based on a relatively shallow search, it also looks like major stakeholders, including representants of authors and of publishers, find the law balanced and useful.

You can find an article which I found very informative (in French) at: http://www.actualitte.com/dossiers/monde-edition/reportages/loi-sur-la-numerisation-des-livres-indisponibles-du-xxeme-siecle-sgdl-1700.htm

Google Translate English version: http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.actualitte.com%2Fdossiers%2Fmonde-edition%2Freportages%2Floi-sur-la-numerisation-des-livres-indisponibles-du-xxeme-siecle-sgdl-1700.htm

I am surprised to see an article which appears inaccurate and sensationalist on e-Consultancy, which I highly regard as a source of reliable information.

Best regards,
Didier.

over 4 years ago

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Manon

Didier :
Some books on the list are re-publised by authors or in ebooks, and there are books of non-french authors in the list !
Read the articles and page FB of Jean-Claude Dunyach about the "Indisponibles", like we say in France (excuse by bad englsh :$), but our gouvernment is doing something very dumb about this :x
Authors can say no, but they are not advert if their books are "indisponibles", it's not normal ! You have to search every month if your books arn't on the list !
Search about the "droit du serf", a group of authors. They are not very happy about this...
I have a lot of things to say about this law, and it's not in good :x

over 3 years ago

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desdenova

As a French author directly affected by this new 'law', I would like to answer Didier's comment.

You are correct about the law only applying to books which are no longer in print. But, who has given them the right to do this??

1) According to law, the author retains ALL rights to his work that are NOT specifically mentioned in his contract. Considering that the vast majority of the books concerned by this 'law' were published at a time when the internet was not even yet available in France, this means that the rights for digital publication remain wholly the author's. In this case, why should *I* be the one to opt-out (which is a tedious process) when in effect it should be a publisher's job to approach me with a new offer (and contract) to reprint my book (digitally or otherwise).

2) When a book goes out of print (though this may depend on specific contracts) ALL rights typically revert back to the author. Which makes this 'law' even more moot. And even moreso in the case where a publisher is no longer in business.

Regarding the 'monetary compensation'... If you dig a little bit deeper, you will find that the publisher gets paid *twice* with this new law whereas the author only gets a very very small portion of the benefits. Also, you'll note that they created a new organization, ReLIRE, to manage all this, and how do you think they will finance this? that's right, by taking a bit more from the profits. There won't be much left for the authors -- as if it was not already hard enough earning a living as it is!

Now the argument 'revenue which they would not have collected as by definition their work is no longer commercially available' is not a good one. Take my case. I am planning to reissue my book myself this year. In an augmented and extended version. Now what will happen to my sales if they reprint the original book in its old outdated form? Not to mention, as it's outdated, I do not think it would be a good thing to put it back on the market as is.

As for finding the law balanced and useful... have you come across the petition (against this 'law') which was signed some time ago by most of the country's authors and even numerous non-authors? Sure, there are some people who don't think it's a bad thing, but in most cases it's because they do not fully understand what's going on here. Which is somewhat understandable as the 'law' was written in such a way to make it *sound* good at first read.

As far as I'm concerned, this 'law' is unacceptable and unlawful (thus my quotes) as it contradicts many other laws.

I'm kind of happy to see how this is also affecting non-French authors. Because this means there will likely be many more writers voicing their miscontent. And the more, the better. Hopefully it will wake up our government!

over 3 years ago

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