A group of French lawyers on May 23 launched a legal challenge against some of the country's leading video and DVD publishers, accusing them of failing to respect an individual's right to make a priva

PARIS (The Hollywood Reporter) -- A group of French lawyers on May 23 launched a legal challenge against some of the country's leading video and DVD publishers, accusing them of failing to respect an individual's right to make a private copy of a legitimately purchased DVD.

As their name suggests, Classaction.fr launched a class action -- the first of its kind in France -- against Warner Bros. France, Gaumont Columbia Tristar Home Video, Fox Pathe Europa, TF1 Video, Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Universal Pictures France.

The group of Paris-based lawyers claims the publishers deny individuals their legal right to make private copies of DVDs by incorporating anti-copy mechanisms onto disks.

"We want to provide all consumers with access to justice for a nominal sum," said Jean-Marc Goldnadel, lawyer and member of Classaction.fr, which was set up a year ago. "We're looking at all judicial decisions taken in France, and when a decision is taken that is favorable for a consumer, and there is a group of consumers in the same situation, we'll lead this kind of action on a national scale," he explained.

The action rests upon a French appellate court decision in April this year that stipulated that anti-copy measures should not prevent private copies from being made. Furthermore, in France, when an individual purchases a writeable DVD, the price includes a tax which goes to rights holders to cover a private copy.

"We pay the tax, we have the right, and we find ourselves with DVDs and videos with an anti-copy mechanism which forbids us making a copy," Goldnadel said.

To fund the action and encourage claimants, Classaction.fr has set up a Web site where any person who has purchased a DVD and the means to read and copy a DVD over the past five years can join in the action by paying a fee of between €12-€58 ($15-$73) to cover legal costs. In return they will receive a corresponding slice of any damages won.

"Since this morning we've had several hundred people sign up through the site," said Goldnadel. "And we're hoping the 15 million people who own video/DVD readers will sign up," he added.

Classaction.fr is demanding damages of €1000 ($1,255) per consumer having purchased a DVD with an anti-copy device, estimated at some 15 million. They say the six publishers, which represent around 85% of the French DVD market, would pay pro-rata, according to their individual market share.

The Syndicat de l'Edition Video, France's main video publishers' trade body did not return calls.