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France’s Toned-Down iTunes Law Draws Ire

French lawmakers have given final approval to a proposed copyright law which could force Apple Computer and other digital media distributors to make their services interoperable with devices and technology from other developers and manufacturers. The vote was the last legislative procedure before the bill would become law, although a constitutional challenge against it was filed last week by France’s opposition Socialist party.

Although the current version of the legislation is significantly toned down from earlier versions put before the French Parliament months ago, the move is still drawing strong fire from technology groups, claiming the law will stifle innovation and possibly lead to major media distributors withdrawing from the French market altogether. Apple Computer famously described the original version of the legislation as “state-sponsored piracy.”

The legislation is largely viewed to target Apple’s iPod and iTunes business because songs purchased at Apple’s iTunes Music Store only work with Apple iPods and Apple’s iTunes Software, and Apple has declined to license its digital rights management technology, FairPlay, to other services or manufacturers. Under the final version of the legislation, digital media distribution companies (lik Apple with the iTunes Music Store) would be required to share technical information with any rival which wishes to offer compatible devices or services, although a loophole has been introduced which would allow Apple and others to forego technology-sharing through new deals with record labels, studios, and artists.

Groups like Americans for Technology Leadership criticize the law as an attack on the intellectual property of all companies, not just Apple. “Once government regulators take away a company’s intellectual property rights and dictate that they must allow competitors to benefit from their creations, they break the cycle of innovation that benefits consumers by destroying the incentive companies have to create new and better products,” said ATL’s Jim Prendergast in a statement today.

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