Apple may be ordered to change its iTunes

3 Jul 2006

French lawmakers voted Friday on a copyright law that could force Apple to make sure that songs purchased on its iTunes music download service are compatible with music devices that compete with its iPod.

Songs currently bought from iTunes can only be played on Apple’s iPod devices. The bill would ensure that any digital song could be played on any player.

The French Senate and National Assembly voted to approve a new law that could also reduce the price of penalties for illegal music downloads.

In March, French leaders in the lower house also approved the bill. The decision was made on the basis that if a particular digital music platform was successful, it might in turn act as a dominant gatekeeper in the digital world that will embrace not only music but also movies and games.

The law seeks to break down the barriers created by incompatible digital rights management (DRM) formats that prevent music files being played on a rival manufacturer’s device.

The decision has ramifications not only for Apple but also for consumer electronics giant Sony and software giant Microsoft.

At the time Apple warned that the law could force digital music sales to plummet at a point where legitimate alternatives to piracy are beginning to bloom.

The issue, which appears to be finalised in France, is gaining ground elsewhere in Europe with consumer advocates in Denmark, Sweden and Norway asking Apple to explain by 1 August why songs purchased on iTunes cannot be played on rival devices.

By John Kennedy