22 Dec 2005 freetype   » (Master)

French Politics for Dummies

It seems there is confusion about what happened yesterday regarding the "DADVSI code", so here's a quick intro on how French law-making works:

First, the actors

  • The government is a set of people chosen by the President to rule the country's affair. These people are not elected and do not represent the people of France in any way; they're just chosen by the President, and can be swapped/fired at will (which happens pretty often ;-)

  • The parliament is a set of locally-elected deputies. Each one has won a local election to be a representative for a specific region/district of France. Anybody can be a deputy, but you'll need to win the election, where being affiliated to a strong political party helps a lot (especially when you're a pedantic snob that never shook hands with the populace, like someone I know who became a deputy :-)

  • The senate is a set of old-bums that are elected by the Deputies every nine-years. It is used as a sort of geriatric facility for old politicians who can't do anything else. It's really a strange oddity in our political system because most of them are aged over 70 and don't have an idea of the country's current affairs.

Then, the Rules

  • One of the government's role is to propose new laws, or amendments to existing ones. All these proposals are debated at the Parliament by the deputies.

  • The deputies can reject a proposal, accept it pro forma, or more generally request specific changes and amendments before accepting them. Each proposal must be debated for at least two sessions, except under exceptional conditions.

  • When a proposal if accepted, even in modified form, it is sent to the Senate. The senators must also debate the proposal and have the power to reject it or accept it. I don't believe they can change it however. There is only one debate there.

  • When a law has been accepted by both the Parliament and the Senate, the Government must officially publish a special document, named "Décret d'application" which states exactly when the law shall start to be applied, wether it is retro-active, etc...

    It's important to understand that if the decret is not published, the law is pending and shall not be applied by judges, even if they want to :-) Interestingly, there exist a lot of "pending" laws in France that will likely never be applied.

So, what happened here

  • The government, and more specifically the "Ministre de la Culture" (yes, we have that here) proposed a sort of super-DMCA law to "protect" the authors of copyrighted works by making DRM tempering illegal (bye bye VLC's DVD playing capabilities), providing information about DRM systems illegal, and explicitely refusing fair uses practices for the purchasers of DRM-ed products.

  • The government has invoked exceptionnal reasons to impose a single debate at the parliament, instead of two; it also planned a very late hour for the debate just before Christmas. This is usually done to "ease" the acceptance of proposals, since less deputies in the debate generally mean less debates, change requests, refusals, etc...

  • The parliament has nonetheless imposed several amendments, some of them that would explicitely make non-commercial P2P sharing a recognized "fair use", as long as a sort of global tax be paid by users on their ISP's bill.

What does it mean

The law isn't official, so P2P isn't legal in France. Not yet. That also means that we can still watch DVDs though. There is nearly 0% chance that the Senate will accept the proposal, or that the Government will publish the corresponding Decret.

Not also that the "global tax" system isn't in place yet. Even if the law was applied NOW, P2P sharing would still be illegal.

Hope this helps.

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