French Assembly approves legislative threat to iTunes

Out-Law News | 22 Mar 2006 | 1:02 pm | 1 min. read

The French National Assembly approved a draft law yesterday that will force Apple and other companies offering copy-protected music downloads to open up their services so that music can be made interoperable with other music players.

If approved by the French Senate, the copyright measure is likely to hit Apple hardest. It holds the largest slice of the legitimate French music download market.

Advert: Free OUT-LAW breakfast seminars, UK-wide: open source software; and data retentionApple has always refused to share its digital rights management (DRM) software, known as FairPlay. Music downloaded from Apple iTunes will only play on a computer or an Apple iPod. It will not play on a rival MP3 player. Microsoft and Sony do the same with their proprietary formats.

The French bill seeks to make the separate systems interoperable with each other, by forcing the firms to make their DRM software available for scrutiny by competitors. This, it is hoped, will give consumers more choice and open the market to competition.

But critics fear that the law will reduce the effectiveness of copy-protection systems and of copyright itself.

According to John Kennedy, chairman and CEO of music industry group, the IFPI: “The recording industry fully supports interoperability because it is important to consumers to have the ability to move songs between their various listening devices. Interoperability is crucial to attracting consumers to buy music online, but it should not be at the cost of endangering the technology used to enable legitimate offerings of music and services online.”

Rumours are circulating that Apple is more likely to withdraw from the French market altogether than open FairPlay to rivals.

Apple has not commented on the rumours. Speaking to Reuters, Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris warned that “The French implementation of the EU Copyright Directive will result in state-sponsored piracy".

"If this happens, legal music sales will plummet just when legitimate alternatives to piracy are winning over customers," she added.

According to reports, the bill also seeks to impose fines of €38 to €150 on individuals caught downloading or uploading films or music at home. Those found guilty of creating or distributing software used in illegally downloading digital music or movie files could face a fine of €300,000 and three years in prison.

The bill was approved by 296 votes to 193 in the National Assembly yesterday. If approved by the French Senate, it will become law.