French 'iPod bill' amended, now requires licensing

— 5:14 PM on May 11, 2006

After bitter complaints from Apple about a French bill that proposed to make digital rights management (DRM) formats interoperable, the French Senate has now amended the bill to avert what Apple claimed would have caused a "state-sponsored culture of piracy." Instead of forcing companies to release information about their DRM formats in order to allow interoperability, the bill now throws licensing fees and a regulatory authority into the mix. According to Reuters, "a company that agrees to provide [information about its DRM format] will receive a license fee as compensation along with guarantees that the transfer of information will not weaken its copyright protection measures." To enforce these guarantees, the Senate has proposed a new Authority for the Regulation of Technical Measures that will review DRM information exchange requests. A European regional counsel said the following about the authority:

"The Senate, instead of enabling anyone to hack in, puts the matter in the hands of a regulatory authority, which will take decisions and potentially oblige companies to disclose their source code," said Olivia Regnier, European regional counsel for the music industry trade group, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

"We feel that the provision voted by the Senate is better balanced, there's an explicit expectation to respect the rules of the game."

Apple has not yet commented on the amended bill, but analysts have claimed the company could simply withdraw its French iTunes Music Store were the previous version of the bill voted into law. Allegedly, only 20% of iTunes and iPod sales occur outside the U.S., and only 2% in France, so Apple may be able to ditch the French market without suffering significant losses.
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