PARIS The French Senate this week will conclude debate on a law that could effectively shut down online music and video services in France using digital rights management (DRM) systems exclusive to one company's devicea category that includes Apple's iTune online music store and Sony Connect.
The proposed revision to the copyright law, passed by the National Assembly in March and to be debated Thursday (May 4) in the Senate, would strike an egalitarian blow for the principle of interoperability. It would require that any digital music or video purchased online be playable in any existing device, regardless of brand.
France's attempt to update its copyright laws, in order to meet standards established by the European Union, has suffered numerous twists and turns. The proposed interoperability law, which goes beyond any existing regulation, has fueled the software industry's ire and has prompted Apple to accuse France of "state-sponsored piracy."
The French law offers leniency to users who download music and other files illegally, while cracking down on software developers who write and distribute programs to crack DRM protection. Included in the proposed legislation is the demand that online music and video services such as iTunes open up proprietary DRM systems. This would allow customers to download songs onto devices other than iPods.
In an interview last week with the International Herald Tribune, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the French minister of culture, said: "I have absolutely nothing against iTunes, and this is not some payback or protectionism against a foreign company."
He continued, "We are simply defining a fundamental value and principle that I believe will be demanded by Internet users and consumers."
With no single DRM industry standard, it remains unclear how France can enforce a law that demands interoperability. Industry sources speculated that the proposed regulation, if enacted, might force Apple to cease digital music sales in France.
Any changes approved by the French Senate would have to be incorporated into a compromise bill negotiated between the two houses of the French Parliament.
The U.S. Commerce Department is backing Apple in the dispute.