France is in the final stage of adapting the European Union's E-Commerce Directive into local law, but another crucial piece of EU legislation for the music and film industries is way behind schedule.

PARIS -- France is in the final stage of adapting the European Union's E-Commerce Directive into local law, but another crucial piece of EU legislation for the music and film industries is way behind schedule.

France's highest court, the Constitutional Counsel, has cleared the E-Commerce Directive, which was approved by the Parliament last May. Only a limited number of elements, related to freedom of the press, were modified by the Counsel. The bill puts the onus on ISPs to remove content from their services when they are notified that it is illegal.

The law should be enacted within 10 days.

Meanwhile, the French government announced last week that the law adapting the Copyright Directive will be given a first reading by the Parliament in July. The Directive was due to be adopted by EU members at the latest in December 2002. Most EU states have now integrated the directive into their legislation.

The directive regulates copyright issues in the digital era. Music industry experts explain that France's delay is due to a lack of leadership on the issue by the department in charge, the Ministry of Culture, and by harsh debates between proponents of strong legislation protecting rights owners and groups wishing for more lax laws: Internet service providers, telecom companies and consumer bodies, among others.

"This time we have a text that is well-balanced," says Frederic Goldsmith, legal counsel for labels body SNEP. But SNEP and several other organizations fear that during the debate at the Parliament, many MPs will introduce amendments that will radically alter the proposed legislation.

"For a start, MPs hate discussing law that transpose directives," says an observer. "And there's a tendency with some MPs to side with those who take the view that IP protection on the Internet is not that necessary."

One of the hottest debates in France concerns the status of music on the Internet. Artists' and musicians' collecting societies Adami and Spedidam are in favor of a legal license that will rule content on the Internet. As is the case with radio, content providers would pay collecting societies a fee for the use of music or video on their services. At a conference last week in Paris, both organizations renewed their pledge for a legal license.

This view is combated by the music and the film industries. "Legally, it does not stand on its own, and economically, it is pure nonsense," says Goldsmith. "The Copyright Directive is very clear about that. We are in a system in which rights owners have the right to authorize or refuse for their works to appear on such services."

He adds that if the legal license system prevails, record labels and film producers would no longer have control of who uses their works and how much they pay for it.

After a first reading at the Chamber of Deputies, the copyright bill will be discussed by the Senate, but this will likely not take place until the end of 2004. A second reading should take place at the Chamber in early 2005, with a final vote by the Senate before the summer. "It is quite likely that the law will only be enacted by mid-2005," says Goldsmith.