What’s with the French? First, they’re friends of the US for over 150 years, then there’s that whole Jerry Lewis thing, now lawmakers in France want to open up Apple’s iTunes Music Store to the competition.
Is this good for Apple? Is it good for customers?
I’m sure we’ll start a whole string of French jokes, but this one has me puzzled, and I’m left with more questions than answers.
French lawmakers have approved an online copyright bill that could require Apple Computer to make music available on the iTunes Music Store that would play on any portable music player.
As it is now, music purchased from the iTMS plays on Apple’s iPods using an exclusive, Apple-only digital rights management scheme, though music can be burned to a CD and imported to virtually any music player.
The French Connection
France’s National Assembly, the lower house, voted 296-193 to approve a law which would force Apple Computer and others to share proprietary copy-protection technologies.
That means that music you purchase from iTMS or anywhere else could or should play on any other portable music player. In France. This is not law yet, and may not spread elsewhere, I know what you’re thinking.
It’s either, “What’s wrong with that?” or, perhaps a more profound, “Not only can the French not fight, not recognize true comedy genius, and don’t have good wine anymore, they don’t understand technology.”
This isn’t law yet, so save your French jokes until a more appropriate time.
The new legislation will need to be debated and voted on by the Senate, perhaps as early as May.
If passed, the French law could “open up” the iTunes Music Store’s DRM technology (called Fairplay) so it would run on other music players. Ostensibly, the same would be true of other online music stores operating in France; their music would be required to run on Apple’s iPods.
To be fair, the new legislation also introduces penalties for those caught pirating music or movies at home, and a penalty for hackers who disable copy protections sytems. The fines are steep; over $350,000.
Is this good for Apple, or not? Is it good for purchasers of online music who now may feel they’re locked in to a spefific player or format?
For Apple, this cannot be a good thing. Apple has a dominant market position in France and elsewhere regarding online music downloads. That market share position would be in jeopardy with any requirement to provide music that plays on portable players offered by competitors.
On the other hand, competitors probably welcome the opportunity to have music from Apple’s iTunes Music Store play on their players. The same would hold true for competing online music stores whose music would play on Apple’s iPods.
Most of us know that music purchased from Apple’s iTunes Music Store will play on any portable music player already, something the French lawmakers may not understand.
However, the user must jump a hoop or two. The song must be purchased, then burned to a CD, then imported into a competing music player on a PC, then saved to a non-iPod portable player.
The New French Revolution
Assuming the French law passes and is implemented, is this a good deal for the customer? Yes, and no. Apple’s whole ecosystem is at the heart of the iPod’s success.
It all just works. From Windows or Mac, iTunes is a great music player, linked tightly with the iTunes Music Store, and seamlessly integrated to the iPod. No other music players need apply, no other system works as well.
One of the reasons non-Apple portable music players and online stores haven’t caught on in the Windows world is that the whole process is not as seamless; it just doesn’t work as smoothly and well-integrated (there’s also the issue of “cool” and marketing).
Other online music stores don’t offer the variety of the Apple iTunes Music Store, and portable music players don’t have the variety of accessories that are iPod only.
Is choice good? Arguably, there are better portable music players than Apple’s iPod. The new SanDisk Sansa model is particularly attractive.
Other players usually have more features such as built-in FM, or audio recording capability.
Assume that the French law passes, and Apple and other online music stores and player manufacturers are required to provide interoperability between music and player.
Will that revolution catch on elsewhere? Is it possible to see the same interoperability in the US? It’s probable that the music recording industry wants interoperability, and a lower market share for Apple.
Can Apple’s iTunes, iPod, iTunes Music Store ecosystem compete as effectively if full music and player interoperability is required? What will Apple do? What should Apple do if the proposed legislation becomes law?
As you can tell, I have more questions than answers. On one hand, I want Apple’s success to continue (so do many other stockholders), and what might be one crack in the dam could spread elsewhere; a French music revolution.
If Apple leaves the French market entirely, Microsoft then owns the whole country as their DRM is open to all other players except Apple (I don’t see Apple leaving France).
Good For Customers, Or Not?
What should Apple do? What would you do in a similar circumstance? Is it likely that this revolution will spread to other countries in Europe, then the US?
Add your comments to the discuss below. Keep the “French” jokes to a minimum.