You've got to hand it to the French. They've got a distinctly European sense of humor.

We're just shy of the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Paris, in which France abolished the practice of issuing "letters of marque" authorizing private shipping vessels to play soldier and attack enemies of La Republique. In celebration of the anniversary, French lawmakers have approved amendments to a proposed anti-digital-piracy law that will . well, legalize piracy.

The bill being amended had originally aimed to do exactly the opposite. When French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres initially proposed the legislation, the idea was to punish computer "pirates" who downloaded music and videos through file-sharing networks without paying for the works -- the way Napster (NASDAQ:NAPS) used to work. As originally written, the bill would have imposed stiff penalties for digital piracy, up to and including fines of $360,000 and three years in the Bastille.

But lawmakers from the governing Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party staged a revolution, amending the bill to convert that $360,000 fine into an $8.50 "fee" for the right to plunder intellectual property at will. Specifically, the amendments propose that any person who pays the $8.50 "royalty fee" on top of his or her usual monthly Internet access charge be admitted to the online equivalent of an all-you-can eat cafeteria for music and movies. Presumably, the Eurocrats in Paris would then collect these fees and distribute them in some fair and equitable manner to the people who hold copyright and other intellectual property rights to the materials downloaded.

Sound good to you? Then you obviously don't work for a music company. Or a moviemaker. Or any of the companies now earning an honest living by charging for the right to download music and videos. Once they hear of this proposed legislation, you can bet your bottom euro that lobbyists from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), and RealNetworks (NASDAQ:RNWK) will be making a beeline for the nearest hawker of first-class plane tickets to Paris. And harried execs from Sony (NYSE:SNE) and EMI won't be far behind them. (Lucky Vivendi (NYSE:V) only has to hail a cab to reach the scene of this legislative crime.)

The good news is that, in the end, all this sound and fury will likely, probably, hopefully signify nothing. As in the U.S., French legislation must pass readings in two houses to become law, and so far, this bill is only halfway through the approval process in just the lower house -- the National Assembly. Even if approved at its next reading in mid-January, the offending amendments could still be killed in the French Senate.

We hope.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above.