The future is coming ready-or-not

Apple iTunes DRM must interoperate say French

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The French parliament is proposing a new law to free consumers from DRM lock-in. Essentially, a media system that operated a format lock-in would have to provide information so that other technical systems could interoperate. There’s more coverage on the BBC and Business Week.

It’s widely seen as an attack on Apple’s iTunes/iPod system as it represents 70% of the digital music market. The impact of the law would be that Apple would have to provide interoperability information to other music player manufacturers such as Sony. Consumers would be able to play content they had bought through the iTunes store on any player. At the moment iTunes music will only play on an iPod due to encryption.

The FT is scathing of this idea, probably because it would have a significant impact on Apple’s share value. The main report, France seeks to fragment Apple’s core, by Waters, Allison and Braithwaire suggests that:

“According to the industry’s received wisdom, these closed systems are characteristic of new technology markets in their infancy”

Odd received wisdom, because as far as I know there’s no proof that closed/proprietary systems open up due to market maturity. And DRM is just the latest extension to the proprietary system tool-box.

Two obvious examples, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Word aren’t infant technologies but their both proprietary and difficult to interoperate, damaging consumers. The rise of interoperable systems has mostly been caused because a technology is a challenger (ethernet versus token ring), or was part of public development (TCP/IP and UNIX). Can anyone think of a technology that has opened up due to market maturity? And does anyone think this will change, particularly considering that reverse engineering is increasingly difficult?

In a point in the main comment piece the FT states “Politicians have no business legislating for interoperability”. On the basis that the market should prevail and that it’s for monopoly authorities to protect consumers. It seems bizarre that consumers should have to accept being locked out from playing content that they’ve legally bought. Proprietary DRM systems secrets are a red-herring, if it’s that important to the content industry they should come up with an open standard.

Actually, consumer protection should go further. Forget Apple and iTunes for a moment. Much of our lives and communications are going online and it’s only going to increase. If we can’t guarantee interoperability between formats then we face the prospect of losing whole chunks of our records and history. For a sane digital age, users must have the ability to interoperate between formats. It’s a basic requirement that is for the good of all.

The Internet proves the long-term benefits of open systems, protocols and formats for all. Consumers and businesses have benefited from the creativity possible with an ecology of open systems. Companies such as Apple will still be able to win through superior products.

What do you think, should formats be open? Has the French legislature gone mad or is this ground breaking law? And, would the proposed law damage Apple?

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Written by Steve George

March 22, 2006 at 16:27

One Response

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  1. I just got my 2000t and all of my songs are skipping in iTunes, and I cant figure out why. If someone could help me out and tell me how to fix this I would really appreciate it because its driving me crazy. Thanks for the replys.


    November 28, 2006 at 22:12

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