Free software campaigner Richard Stallman said French youth should protest against a draft law on copyright that will be voted on Friday.
The bill threatens their freedom to watch DVDs using free software, and is designed to make French citizens submit to the will of media companies, he said.
Asked what could stop the law, Stallman replied: "Thousands of French youth in the streets."
They don't have long to organise their protests, since Friday is the last day of the parliamentary session before the long summer vacation. Both houses of the French parliament will vote on the bill on that day: the Senate in the morning, the National Assembly in the afternoon. The bill, formally titled "Authors' rights and related rights in an information society," is also known by its French abbreviation, DADVSI.
Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, won over his Paris audience Monday night by addressing them in French.
"I can explain free software in three words: "liberté, égalité and fraternité," he said. Freedom, because free software gives everyone four freedoms unavailable with proprietary software; equality, because it gives everyone all the same freedoms, and brotherhood, because everyone belongs to the same community of interest, he said.
In contrast, he said, the motto of users of the Linux open source operating system would probably be "profitability, reliability and efficacy."
Given a choice between reliability and freedom, Stallman said he would choose freedom, as with free software, one of the freedoms users have is the freedom to fix buggy source code in order to make it more reliable.
"Those who don't recognise freedom are in the process of losing it," he said. "We can see that here, with the DADVSI law."
"It will be illegal to watch a DVD using free software," he said, because of the bill's provisions on the development of software to implement DRM (digital rights management) systems.
Stallman mocked those who saw hope in the bill's requirement that companies using DRM technology provide the information necessary for others to develop interoperable DRM systems.
"Many people say that DRM, digital handcuffs, are acceptable as long as they work on all machines. 'We can go everywhere with the same handcuffs. All computers use the same handcuffs.' It's clear that that's not the solution," he said.
The bill allows citizens to ask a court to order companies to provide them with information about their DRM systems, but doesn't say whether they may do so under a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), he said. "If they are allowed to provide such information under NDA, then it would not be possible to develop free software using the information," he said, since the NDA would forbid disclosure of the source code.
"The simple fact of not having an application for watching DVDs could pose a big obstacle for the uptake of Linux. If you are prevented from supplying such an application, then people who don't appreciate freedom for its own sake will refuse to use Linux because of that," he said.
"To defend freedom, you have to appreciate it. To appreciate it, you have to recognise it. But in our community, many people haven't learned to recognise freedom. In the world of open source, they don't talk about freedom. That's why I do talk about it, every chance I get," he said.