Two French individuals have received two-month suspended sentences and fines of €20,000 ($26,492) for exchanging physical copies of films.

PARIS -- Two French individuals have received two-month suspended sentences and fines of €20,000 ($26,492) for exchanging physical copies of films.

Legal experts consider the Dec. 7 judgment by the High Court of Blois as demonstrating the limits of France's "private copy" exception to copyright law, a defense relied upon by the duo.

French copyright law states that protected works may be copied strictly for private use. In return, a blank tape levy is applied on the sales of blank CD-Rs.

In the Blois case, the plaintiffs, acting on behalf of French video trade body the SEV, were able to demonstrate that the two defendants exchanged copied films. The court held that exchanging films exceeded the right to make copies for private use. Several similar cases are pending in France for films and music.

Last October, an individual in Rodez was discharged by a local court -- despite having 488 copied films -- because there was no proof of an exchange.

According to Marc Guez, director general of labels' collecting society SCPP, such cases form part of the 50 class actions already filed by the society against individual music pirates last June. "Although P2P networks were not used in the Blois case, for us there's no difference between digital or physical exchanges," he says.

Guez is convinced that the private-copy exception was encroached on three counts in the Blois case.

"Firstly, the copies weren't used privately. Secondly, the considerable number of copies made of each film suggests commercial activity. Thirdly, a private copy may not prejudice a protected work," he says. "The infraction comes when you get hold of a copy of something you didn't own in the first place."