So it’s happened, the French parliament has passed the controversial DRM amendment.
There is of course no guarantee this bill will run its full course: it has to get passed the Senate and then be subject to challenges in a judiciary which thus far has taken the polar opposite stance to interoperability.
However, let’s just assume it does get implemented, what does it mean for Apple and the rest of the pack?
After lengthy debates and amendments the legislation provides for digital music retailers to provide their codes to interested 3rd parties so that they can create content that is playable on all devices and players.
Besides the fact that this is heavy handed legislation attempt to legislate a format war, there are massive question marks.
Firstly it hasn’t tried to implement either an industry standard DRM nor compel retailers to sell in multiple formats. It hss opted for a half-way house.
Secondly, the implications of opening up DRM codecs to ‘interested parties’ potentially undermines the whole ethos of DRM as a tool for protecting content. If DRM source code becomes open source then why bother wrapping content in DRM at all as it will be easily breakable. If this becomes the case then you can expect to see record labels seriously reconsidering their digital strategies.
If the French parliament is hoping that an industry standard DRM will come into being, the likely result is a Balkanized situation as we see in the mobile space (with OMA 2 mired in controversy) or probably Microsoft becoming the de facto standard. Remember that the majority of Europe’s 200 digital stores are already WMA based.
Understandably Apple are furious;
‘The French implementation of the EU Copyright Directive will result in state-sponsored piracy,’
There is a very real threat that the legitimate digital stores will become embroiled in conflicts over implementation of interoperability and the net result is that the illegal sector prospers. Or even that iPod owners and other device owners simply focus on what they do to get most of their content on their devices: ripping CDs.
Apple could potentially leave the French digital music market, which would enable them to evade the law, unless of course it becomes implemented throughout the EU, which the French government wants to see happen. Closing iTunes France would clearly be a last resort but it wouldn’t be massive dent to Apple’s revenues: the French digital download market was 20 million Euros in 2005 of which Apple accounted for no more than 10 million of.