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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.