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French DRM Law May Let Apple Off Easy

Apple may be off the hook in France: the French Senate has approved new legislation which would reform France’s copyright laws to bring them into synch with the rest of the European Union, but provisions which woudl have required digital media vendors (like Apple) to make their DRM system interoperable have been dropped.

An earlier version of the legislation was approved by the French National Assembly, Apple accused the body of promoting “state-sponsored piracy.” The law would have required Apple share details of its FairPlay DRM technology with other vendors who wished to make interoperable gear, or sell unprotected versions of music in the French version of its iTunes Music Store. Apple’s agreements with record labels very likely don’t permit it to sell unprotected music, and Apple has declined to license FairPlay to anyone. Therefore, if the law passed, Apple was widely expected to withdraw the iTunes Music Store (and possibly the iPod music player) from the French market.

(Apple would not have been the only vendor impacted: Microsoft, RealNetworks, and others would have had to meet the same criteria. However, Apple currently controls the lion’s share of the legal French market for digital music.)

The new version of the law creates a regulatory body which would mediate requests to develop systems which interoperate with proprietary DRM schemes. the body would have the authority to order companies to disclose their DRM technology, but companies would be able to refuse so long as their technology only limits usage of digital media in manners approved by the author or copyright holder.

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