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Correcting My Mistake about French Law

by Richard Stallman

For several years I've said in my speeches that it was a crime in France, punishable by imprisonment, to have a copy of the free software that can decrypt the video on a DVD. That encryption is an example of DRM (Digital Restrictions Management), the malicious features designed to restrict users.

That is what Sarkozy's DADVSI law said when it was adopted, but I recently learned that the Conseil d'Etat introduced some exceptions. In fact, free software to decrypt and play DVDs is legally distributed in France—unlike the US, where it was censored by the infamous 1998 law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

However, it's not clear whether this will apply to other DRM schemes. There is a danger that the complex conditions will specifically prohibit free software for playing Bluray disks and allow only proprietary software. Thus, it is not a crime in France to possess the free software that can play a DVD, but it is yet to be decided whether it is a crime to possess a free program to play a Bluray disk.

It is certainly not wrong to have a copy of such a program. The software that's wrong is nonfree software; the only ethical program to play a video, or do anything else, is a free program. The wrong here is in the law itself. However, as long as it exists, if you are a dissident in France you should keep such programs hidden.

When I first got a drive that handles DVDs, the reason I decided not to install free DVD-playing software was because of this French law. I go to France from time to time, and I was concerned there might be some who would wish to have me imprisoned for this so as to terrorize other netizens. I refuse to have any nonfree software, and the only option that left me was to have no software for this job. Thus, I could not play encrypted DVDs at all.

Knowing now that I won't be imprisoned for bringing libdvdcss into France, I could consider having a copy, which would give me the option of playing DVDs that have DRM.

However, I think I won't do it. I have got used to avoiding encrypted DVDs, and this has the bonus of giving Hollywood no money with which to lobby for nasty laws like SOPA. Why change?

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