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Digital Music a la Francaise

Love ’em, hate ’em, the French aren’t afraid to buck the norm. While students riot in the streets over a proposed change in the labor laws, the French parliament tossed an egg at copy-protected digital music systems with a law that would force Apple, Sony, and Microsoft to make their music services get along. What started as a review of France’s existing copyright laws turned into a 296 to 193 vote approving a measure requiring that copy-protected technology be interoperable. The proposed law goes to the Senate in May.

Love ’em, hate ’em, the French aren’t afraid to buck the norm. While students riot in the streets over a proposed change in the labor laws, the French parliament tossed an egg at copy-protected digital music systems with a law that would force Apple, Sony, and Microsoft to make their music services get along. What started as a review of France’s existing copyright laws turned into a 296 to 193 vote approving a measure requiring that copy-protected technology be interoperable. The proposed law goes to the Senate in May. If it ultimately goes into effect, it would force Apple to make iTunes available on non-iPods and require the same of other digital music technology companies, too.

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Unlike the myriad choices for digital music services we have in North America, France is still extremely limited. If we believe the news, the choice winds down to about two services, and one is iTunes.

It’s a noble legal effort. Wouldn’t it be nice if the music you download from the Apple Music Store played on more than an iPod and a handful of computers? Similarly, wouldn’t it be nifty to get music from the URGE service, Microsoft’s collaboration with MTV due out this year, and listen to it on an iPod? Americans probably see this law as a utopian longshot. Analysts are already predicting that Apple will pull out of France rather than give up its secrets.

The irony is that the reasoning behind the French law was to bring in more paid music services instead of drive them away. According to the newspaper Liberation (article in French), the government wanted to give its citizens more legal paid service alternatives to illegal P2P sharing.

Over in America, we’ve been wringing our hands over digital music interoperability for ages, despite all of our services. Just a few weeks ago a bunch of industry types gathered in lower Manhattan to do more speculating. Interoperability never seemed more like the holy grail.

Michael Robertson, of MP3.com notoriety, is one of the many people working on a way to make music accessible regardless of operating systems. He introduced a beta version of his digital music locker a few months ago. Its software centralizes a music collection and then makes it accessible (to its legal limits) on multiple devices. Whether Robertson’s locker gets widely adopted or not, consumers are putting the pressure on the big guys. When it’s too annoying to deal with exclusive formats, we’ll head for interoperable alternatives. Most of us are nearly there already.

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