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French court won't force Apple to open up iTunes

French Competition Council dismisses case brought by Virgin's French arm alleging abuse of market dominance.

The French Competition Council has dismissed a case brought by Virgin's French arm against Apple Computer for alleged abuse of market dominance.

French download site VirginMega wanted to force Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple to lift the lid on its digital rights management (DRM) technology in order to allow Virgin to make its downloads compatible with the iPod music player.

Apple has refused to open up its proprietary FairPlay technology--the DRM system that allows songs from the iTunes store to be played only on iPods--to competitors. VirginMega has opted for Microsoft's DRM, which means that its downloads can't be played on iPods at all.

Due to a lack of "sufficiently convincing elements," the council said it rejected Virgin's case and call for action. Its members noted that "access to the FairPlay DRM isn't indispensable to the development of legal platforms for the downloading of online music." According to the council, the market is "in rapid expansion...and very dynamic in France, as well as in other European countries and the U.S."

The council, however, noted that lack of interoperability between different download sites and music players is "a disadvantage for consumers" but added that "situations like this recur in sectors linked to information technology" and aren't necessarily affected by competition law.

Furthermore, the council emphasized that the link in causality between Apple's "possibly dominant position in the hard-disc music player market, and the competition situation with regard to the download market, isn't established."

The council said various music player devices that are compatible with VirginMega's platform are available on the French market. It added that players with a hard disc, like the iPod, "are and will remain dominant for a long time" over players with flash memory.

Virgin and Apple declined to comment.

Estelle Dumout of ZDNet France reported from Paris.