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March 22, 2006

French “iTunes” law touches Microsoft too

Posted by David Hunter at 7:40 PM ET.

While Apple jousts with the French politicians over digital rights management, it’s worth considering what other tech companies are impacted. Parmy Olson at Forbes sets the stage:

Delegates to France’s Assemblee Nationale voted 286 in favor, 193 against a bill that could drive a wedge between Apple Computer’s iTunes and iPod music players in France.

Apple said non to the measure quickly and loudly. The proposed law, it said, would result in “state-sponsored piracy.”

Apple pointed to recent progress in popularizing legal downloads, a trend which could be dashed if iPod users could freely load their mini-jukeboxes with interoperable music files. “Free movies for iPods should not be far behind in what will rapidly become a state-sponsored culture of piracy,” the company warned.

The bill is now set to go before the upper house of the French parliament for final approval. If it gets put in the statute books, the law could force Apple, Sony and others to share their exclusive copy-protection technologies with rivals.

And one of the more prominent others is Microsoft:

Apple’s iTunes store currently dominates online media sales, while Microsoft has successfully sold its Windows Media format to telecommunications carriers that are hoping to sell copy-protected music, TV and videos to subscribers.

The possibility of one or two proprietary U.S. standards dominating the market is not just a concern in France, whose leaders have recently been touting “economic patriotism.”

There’s more in the article about the desire of both content providers and consumers for a “universal” copy protection standard or at least interoperable standards, but neither looks likely. Interestingly, Microsoft seems to have the best chance at providing a universal standard.

Marcus Matthias, product manager of Windows Digital Media at Microsoft, said his company was following the French debate with interest but was not preparing to adjust its policy to make Windows Media a “common denominator” for digital media, whether on a TV, mobile phone or computer.

Customers agree that, given the lack of an industrywide standard, Windows Media could well be on its way to becoming the de facto format.

“In a converged world where everything travels between PCs and phones, there isn’t any DRM other than Windows Media that’s likely to cut it,” said Dominic Strowbridge, marketing director at BT Movio, British telecommunications operator BT Group’s mobile TV service.

That’s great, but it won’t mollify the French deputies or the folks who think that the French are “saving civilization,” and I doubt that Microsoft wants to be on the hook to document more protocols for competitors.

Filed under Apple, Coopetition, DRM, Digital Media, General Business, Governmental Relations, Licensing, Media Player, Microsoft, Sony, Technologies

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