France to Challenge iTunes’ Supremacy

Michael Hayes
PARIS – French lawmakers could take a bite out of Apple’s online music market by passing legislation that would allow iPod users to download music from stores other than Apple iTunes.

The bill, which would require companies to share copy-protection secrets with competitors to create a level playing field, passed the National Assembly, the French lower house, and is set to go to the Senate for debate.

If the legislation passes, proprietary copy-protection technology such as Apple’s FairPlay will be open to other online music distributors, possibly opening up the Apple-dominated market. According to Apple, iTunes sells more than 3 million songs per day. In some markets, iTunes nets 70 percent of all online music sales.

While the proposed legislation puts Apple in a bind, other companies like Sony and Microsoft, which rely on “closed systems,” could also be forced to divulge copy-protection secrets.

This latest move by the French government follows decisions by French courts taking issue with anti-copy devices on DVDs that restrict what the courts see as the user’s right to make copies for fair use.

Still, the bill is not all bad news for technology companies. The proposed legislation brings stiff penalties for piracy. Those who illegally download movies and music at home would face fines ranging from $50 to $180. Hackers who disable copy-protection systems will face a fine of $4,600. Anyone caught distributing software that enables online piracy will face fines up to $365,000.

There is no word yet from Apple on how the company plans to respond to the proposed French law. The French Culture Ministry is urging the rest of the European Union to adopt similar legislation.