French parliamentarians finished drafting a law on Friday that would open up Apple’s market-leading iTunes online music store to portable music players other than its popular iPods.
The new law, now set for a vote on Tuesday, would allow consumers to circumvent software that protects copyrighted material — known as digital rights management (DRM) — if it is done to convert digital content from one format to another. Using such software is currently illegal in much of the world.
The law, which the government says is designed to boost the legal digital music market, is expected to go into effect by the French parliament’s summer recess. It is designed to adapt the country’s copyright rules to the fast changing market for online content.
Currently, songs purchased from the market-leading iTunes service can only be played on iPods or Motorola’s iTunes mobile phone, and iPods are not compatible with music that uses DRM from rival companies like Microsoft. (MSNBC.com is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)
Consumers are prepared to pay twice as much for a song that can freely move between different devices, a recent study of the European Union project Indicare showed.
Government officials said the law was aimed at preventing any single media playing operating system, whether Apple’s iTunes or Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, from building a dominant position.
Apple and Microsoft are the two main players in the sector.
“We must not permit piracy nor the emergence of a monopoly,” Christian Vanneste, Rapporteur, a senior parliamentarian who helps guide law in France, told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
The law could potentially hurt sales of iPods in France if consumers were able to play iTunes songs on other players.
Apple representatives in the U.S., Great Britain and France did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Comment was not immediately available from Microsoft.
File-sharing amendment killed
The new law is due for a vote in France’s National Assembly on Tuesday and will then be sent to the upper house, the Senate, for approval.
A spokesman for the French parliament told Reuters the vote was postponed until next week partly due to the complexity of the proposed legislation.
“We cannot accept that numerical data is available in one language that cannot be translated into another,” Vanneste said. “Bypassing DRMs to allow this translation will no longer be illegal under this law.”
The law would also affect French online music stores such as Fnac, part of retail group PPR, Virgin, whose French retail operations are owned by media group Lagardere and Vivendi Universal Music, part of the telecoms and media group Vivendi.
For example, on its French Web site, Fnac tells customers they need Microsoft’s Windows Media Player to download songs.
No one at Fnac was available for comment.
The draft legislation also comes with new sanctions. People who download material illegally would be subject to a fine of 38 euros ($46.26) and those sharing illegally downloaded material with others would face fines of 150 euros.
People who make and sell software for illegal file-sharing would remain subject to a maximum fine of 300,000 euros and prison sentences of up to three years.
Police agents would be able to monitor file-sharing networks and trace email addresses by issuing a court order to the Internet service provider.
The proposed law would also secure the right to make private copies of legally downloaded material, but the number of private copies could be limited and has yet to be determined.
DVDs have been excluded from the law for now.
An earlier amendment, which would have legalised the use of peer-to-peer networks to download songs and films for a flat monthly fee of several euros, was killed by fierce opposition from artists, film production houses and record companies.