A digital copyright bill winding its way through the French legislature may target digital rights management technologies like those used in Apple’s iTunes Music Store and iPod offerings. But analysts warn that the bill, if voted into law by the French Senate, could have far-reaching effects on music listeners in France—including the possibility of online music services abandoning that country.
The proposed law would require DRM developers to reveal details of their technology to rivals that wish to build interoperable systems. The bill could affect the FairPlay DRM used by Apple in its iTunes Music Store and iPod music players, and Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM. The French National Assembly approved the bill last week, sending it to the Senate for a final vote.
Apple has condemned the bill as “state-sponsored piracy”. And at least one tech-industry analyst is just as puzzled by the intent of the legislation.
“It’s unclear what the French government is trying to accomplish,” said JupiterResearch vice president and research director Michael Gartenberg. “If this is about interoperability, the iPod and iTunes is already interoperable. If the issue is about selling DRM content or Apple having to provide the keys to its Digital Rights Management to its competitors, then that’s a whole other story.”
Gartenberg points out that a user only needs to burn purchased songs to a CD and re-import them as MP3s to make them interoperable with any other software or music player.
Apple has gone to great lengths since the opening of the iTunes Music Store to block efforts by shareware developers and companies like Real from cracking its DRM software. “It’s hard to imagine that opening up the DRM will go over well with Apple,” said Gartenberg.
It’s not likely to go over well with the record companies that provide online music services with content, either. Even if companies like Apple were to comply with the proposed law, record companies would doubtlessly want some say in the matter.
“If we are talking about the notion that no DRM is acceptable in France, then no digital music is going to be sold in France,” said Gartenberg. “The record companies are just not going to allow that practice. We are talking about much larger issues than what does or doesn’t happen with Apple.”
Apple suggested as much in a statement to Macworld . “If this happens, legal music sales will plummet just when legitimate alternatives to piracy are winning over customers,”the company said. “iPod sales will likely increase as users freely load their iPods with ‘interoperable’ music which cannot be adequately protected. Free movies for iPods should not be far behind in what will rapidly become a state-sponsored culture of piracy.”
Not all analysts agree with that assessment. NPD Techword director of industry analysis Ross Rubin, for one, says he doubts Apple’s claim that the proposed law would “open a up a whole new piracy Pandora’s box.”
“The truth is, there is already a ton of piracy and those that want to get pirated music know where to get it,” Rubin added. “I don’t think this law would do anything for or against piracy.”
Pointing to Apple’s own statement that the company could increase iPod sales, Rubin said Apple might consider staying in the market to capitalize on that possibility. However, with all factors weighed in Rubin said, “It’s tough to say, but I think they might pull out.”