France backs down on iTunes DRM stance

Proposed legislation to require Apple, others to license their copyright protection technology is watered down.

The French government has apparently reconsidered a proposal to force Apple Computer to make the songs it sells through its iTunes Music Store playable on devices that compete with its iPods.

A French Senate committee has removed wording from proposed legislation that would have forced technology companies to license their digital rights management schemes, according to the Web site of The Inquirer.

Apple, which did not return repeated phone calls, and other DRM holders doing business in France, are likely elated. While the law must still be voted on, the alterations in the legislation signify willingness by some in the French government to honor the rights of companies that don't wish to share their technology with competitors. Senate debate on the bill begins Thursday.

The watering down of the legislation has angered some French consumer groups. In February, French consumer association Union Federale des Consommateurs-Que Choisir sued Apple and Sony, claiming that their respective DRM schemes limited consumer choices.

Some of the groups have scheduled a street protest on May 7 in Paris' Place de la Bastille, according to Ars Technica, which first reported the story.

iTunes files downloaded through Apple's music service are protected by the company's FairPlay DRM technology, designed to play exclusively on Apple devices such as the iPod.

France's lower house of parliament passed legislation last month designed to prevent any single music-playing technology and any one media seller or device maker from dominating the online market.

The wording of the legislation was altered in France's Senate after Apple blasted the lower house's decision by calling it state-sponsored piracy.

"It's kind of what a lot of folks expected," said Mike McGuire, vice president of research at analysis firm Gartner. "To pass such a law, the French were arguing that Apple is a monopoly, when, in fact, there are several services that the public can choose from."

Analysts had speculated that, had France required Apple to make it's DRM interoperable, the company would have abandoned doing business in the country.

Industry experts speculated that France fears cultural imperialism by U.S. technology companies. Besides considering a law apparently directed at muffling Apple's influence in the music industry, French President Jacques Chirac has called for the creation of a French rival to Google.

Two weeks ago, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe joined San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in a round-table discussion at San Francisco's City Hall and defended his country's right to protect its consumers.

"I think it's totally normal that the U.S. wants to be strong and protect their people and technology," Delanoe told CNET News.com through a translator. "But the rules have to be the same for everybody...The rules can't favor one country."

CNET News.com's Karen Said contributed to this report.

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