French Amendment Drops Open DRM Requirement

by , 8:10 AM EDT, May 11th, 2006

The controversial copyright bill that would force companies like Apple, Sony, and Microsoft to open their proprietary Digital Rights Management (DRM) copy protection technologies to competitors has been approved by the French Senate with an amendment that offers an avenue to keep the copy protection schemes private. According to Macworld UK, the bill maintained the concept of interoperability, but added a new regulatory agency to mediate requests for details of the various DRM schemes.

The intent of the original bill was to create an open system where portable music players and Internet-based music services all offered compatible products. A Sony Walkman, for example, could play FairPlay protected music downloaded from the iTunes Music Store, and an iPod could play songs downloaded from Naptser.

The new regulatory agency will have the authority to order companies to share the technological details of their DRM schemes with competitors unless the digital music and movie download services can show that they are protecting the content in agreement with the copyright holder. Since the copy protection terms are typically part of distribution contracts, that shouldn't be difficult for Apple, or any other online media distributor, to show.

The amendment also prohibits open source software developers from publishing source code for applications that contain any DRM technology obtained through the law if the original technology developer can show that it would adversely impact the copy protection's effectiveness.

Online music distributors, including Apple, were unhappy with the original bill, fearing that it would erode legitimate online music sales. Apple even referred to the bill as "state sponsored piracy." Had the bill passed in its original form, analysts expected companies to shut down their France-based services to avoid opening their DRM schemes to competitors.

The likelihood that Apple will continue to sell the iPod and operate the iTunes Music Store in France is much greater now that it has some way to protect its FairPlay copy protection. The amendment to the original bill, however, essentially guts the law since companies can refuse to share their DRM schemes.