Conclusion to talks expected May 10, 12.

The French Senate today (May 4) recommenced debate on the country's long-awaited copyright bill.

More than 250 amendments have been registered for examination over the next three to four days. The right to interoperability between digital services and music players, as introduced by the Parliament in early March, is expected to be the subject of intense debate.

In his opening speech this morning, minister of culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres restated that interoperability was essential to the development of a digital music market, advocating "the possibility to play a song legally acquired on any device."

Though the Senate is likely to support this point, it may radically alter the way this right is introduced.

Michel Thiollière, the senator serving as spokesman for the cultural affairs commission, suggested the removal of the obligation for software companies to make public information on their proprietary digital rights management to ensure interoperability between digital services and music players.

The French Parliament's March 21 decision to introduce the right to interoperability was immediately slammed in a statement by Apple Computer, whose iTunes Music Store and iPod business in France would potentially be impacted.

It would effectively force Apple Computer to open up its until-now closed digital music store to be compatible with rival music players.

Thiollière has proposed instead to let DRM technology firms work on interoperability and to name a regulatory authority to act as consumer watchdog.

The Senate will also discuss the withdrawal of the potential right for end-users to bypass DRM for interoperability purposes, which was raising concerns within the music industry.

Debate is expected to be concluded May 10 or 12, after which time the text may be adopted by the Senate and ultimately passed into law. Should the senators adopt a different text than the Parliament's version, a dedicated commission would be in charge of writing the final bill. Donnedieu de Vabres, however, could decide to send it back to Parliament for further discussions, as he suggested he might do two months ago.

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