EMI France and Fnac, one of France's biggest music retailers, have been accused by a French investigating magistrate of breaching French law in their efforts to prevent music piracy and copying, the FT's French sister paper Les Echos has learnt.

EMI France, a subsidiary of the UK music company, and Fnac, which is owned by luxury and retail group Pinault Printemps Redoute, have been accused of “deceit over the material qualities of goods” over selling audio compact discs that do not work on some car stereos and computers.

The CDs in question are equipped with an anti-piracy device, created by a company called Macrovision, which is designed to prevent them being copied.

After consumer complaints, the French competition and fraud office, the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, confirmed that the CDs could not always be played and that they failed to meet technical regulations laid down in an agreement between technology companies in the early 1980s in a guide known as the “Red Book”.

The sale of CDs that cannot be copied also contravenes the French 1985 “Loi Lang” named after the then culture minister Jack Lang that authorises the copying of CDs for personal use.

On the basis of the fraud office findings, magistrate Alain Philibeaux decided on July 31 to bring formal accusations against the two companies. If found guilty, they could face a total of €187,000 ($226,000) in fines and interest payments, and be obliged to withdraw the CDs from sale. A similar case is being drawn up by the fraud office against German music company BMG, which uses an anti-piracy device called MediaMax developed by SunnComm to protect its CDs.

EMI and BMG, together with Sony Music and Universal Music Group, a subsidiary of Vivendi Universal, also face legal action in Belgium over anti-piracy devices.

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