Force open Apple’s FairPlay?  What has possessed the French this time?

“The French take pride in their revolutions, which are usually hard to miss — mass uprisings, heads rolling and such. So, with the scent of tear gas in the air this past month from the giant protests against a youth labor law, it was easy to overlook the French National Assembly’s approval of a bill that would require Apple Computer to crack open the software codes of its iTunes music store and let the files work on players other than the iPod,” Austan Goolsbee writes for The New York Times. “While seemingly minor, the move is actually rather startling and has left many experts wondering (as ever): What has possessed the French?”

“In their fervor to free listeners from the shackles of their iPods, French politicians have abandoned one of the guiding principles of antitrust economics: penalize companies that harm consumers, not the ones that succeed by building better products,” Goolsbee writes. “Antitrust authorities normally follow well-established procedures when considering such moves. They weigh the loss to consumers of not being able to play iTunes songs on other players against the damage that forcing iTunes to open might have on innovation. France’s own Competition Council did a similar analysis in 2004 and ruled that Apple’s refusal to share the iTunes codes did not harm consumers. The legislature paid no mind to such analysis and seems not to have considered innovation at all. Therein lies the danger.”

“iTunes keeps getting better. Apple has added video capability, celebrity play lists, exclusive music, the ability to convert home movies into iPod format, and many other features — all free,” Goolsbee writes. “If the French gave away the codes, Apple would lose much of its rationale for improving iTunes. Right now, after the royalty payment to the label (around 65 cents) and the processing fee to the credit card company (as high as 23 cents), not to mention other costs, Apple’s margin on 99-cent music is thin. Yet it continues to add free features to iTunes because it helps sell iPods. Opening the codes threatens that link. Apple would need to pay for iTunes features with profits from iTunes itself. Prices would rise. Innovation would slow.”

“Usually, rich countries don’t meddle with others’ intellectual property because they fear retaliation. So why don’t the French fear retaliation now? One reason may be that they have concluded France will never really compete. If the Internet will always have an American accent, why not go after it? Sometimes, the red flag of revolution is surprisingly hard to distinguish from the white flag of surrender,” Goolsbee writes. “The fate of France’s budding intellectual property revolution now rests with the French Senate, which will decide in the coming days whether to proceed. Before declaring pre-emptive war on iTunes, however, perhaps the French would do best to remember a lesson from 1789. Sometimes the very people calling for revolution are the ones who end up losing their heads.”

Full article with much more and highly recommended here.

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Related articles:
French Trade Minister: Apple’s iTunes must play fair in French music market – April 14, 2006
JP Morgan: French DRM law will have limited impact on Apple Computer – March 28, 2006
Dvorak: What the French got right with proposed DRM law – March 28, 2006
Will Apple’s Steve Jobs bid France adieu? – March 22, 2006
Wired’s Kahney: Proposed French copyright protection law a good thing for consumers in the long run – March 22, 2006
Apple calls proposed French DRM law ‘state-sponsored piracy,’ predicts iPod sales increase – March 21, 2006
French National Assembly approves digital copyright bill; could affect Apple’s FairPlay DRM – March 21, 2006


  1. Cry “me” a RIVER France.

    If France is pissed the Internet – invented by the USA – has an “American Accent” then why not take the very same technology (hey, innovation counts for nothing in France anyway) and make your OWN French internet? Get other countries to adopt it. Have a blast.

    But don’t go around proclaiming that anti-trust laws apply to iTunes just because only Motorola has been able to secure a license agreement with Apple to play iTunes.

  2. i agree with “is this kindergarten”. it’s ridiculous that, because france’s GOVERNMENT is making a bad decision on this whole thing, that FRANCE sucks as a result. how would you armchair patriots like it if some french or russian or arabic person declared that USA sucks just because it disagrees with some of the bad moves OUR government makes? you’d be offended.

    imagine it. the ignorant and short-sighted in other countries are sitting there, saying things like “americans are dumb, gun-toting, burger-eating, coke-sniffing schoolyard bullies”. and why? because some people in our government have those attributes.

    judging an entire nation based on its government is about the most ignorant thing a person can do. i’m not going to go as far as to say i’m ashamed to be a mac user, because being a mac user and sharing the same forum as ignorant people are two different things. however, it amazes me that anyone – mac, pc, linux or commodore 64 user, can be so narrow-minded. you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    anyhow, back on topic. the french GOVERNMENT is making a mistake doing this. they very well may ruin the whole itunes concept if they somehow get their way. i don’t use itms simply because i haven’t really wanted to buy any new music recently – but i can see why it’s as successful as it is, and i hope apple prevails on this one.

    MW: can. as in, CAN IT you fzcking biggots.

  3. OK, please someone explain this to me. If Apple refuses to open fairplay to France and does not allow french citizens to download iTunes songs. How will this be enforced by France? Do all email address have a country code? Can french citizens go to an adjoining country to download songs?
    It seems to me to be all but impossible to enforce.

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