New French law manages to antagonise everyone – consumer groups, online retailers and rights owners

August 2006

Internet, record labels

After a protacted debate The French parliament has finally adopted a law that could force Apple Computer to rethink its digital music business model and move away from its closed system of iPod players and iTunes online music. The controversial law maintains that all electronic devices should be “interoperable”, so that consumers can play legally downloaded music on any type of digital player. This means Apple, which has previously called the law “state-sponsored piracy”, would have to remove the copy protection measures that prevent consumers playing tracks bought at its iTunes store on music devices that rival Apple’s iPod. The final text, a compromise agreed last week, now gives a new regulatory body powers to impose fines of up to 5 per cent of global turnover on companies that refuse demands to publish the source code to their systems.

Industry representatives and consumer groups have savaged the outcome. Those who want interoperability to increase consumer choice say the law has watered down the principle by making the regulatory authority, open only to professional claims, its arbitrator. They say the enw law – the so-called “Loi Vivendi Universal” now favours big companies with the capacity to fight prolonged legal battles and exploit exceptions in the law. But operators and copyright owners are less than pleased as well: Francisco Mignorance, from the Business Software Alliance, said the new fining powers were “something really, really drastic that even competition authorities don’t have at the moment,” adding, “Many other countries may be inspired by this.” Americans for Technology Leadership, a group that includes major US firms like Microsoft, said “while the final version is slightly less severe than the earlier draft, it still illustrates France’s complete disregard for intellectual property”.

The new law was drafted initially to conform with EU directives on the copyright protection of online works. But, in a concession to months of fierce lobbying by Apple (who threatened to close down iTunes in France) the law also contains a loophole that will allow the US technology company to demand the right to maintain software blocks against competitors. French socialist politicians have said they will tear up the law and draft a much more radical version if they win presidential elections next year. Apple has faced increased pressure from European governments this month with Norway, Denmark and Sweden all saying it must open its closed system under consumer protection laws or stop operating in their countries.,39024667,39160056,00.htm

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