French Law Could Force Open iTunes

With Apple refusing to allow iTunes Music Store downloads to work with any music device other than the iPod, the French legislature proposed a law Thursday that would make it permissible for consumers to use software to convert digital content from a closed format.

The law's supporters said while it would still be illegal to crack digital right management-protected tracks for other uses, it would legalize conversion from one format to another. They also say the bill is aimed at forcing proprietary systems to open up.

Apple could end up shutting down its store in France as a result, say analysts. Furthermore, it could mean tracks converted out of Apple's proprietary format may make it onto file sharing sites, which worries the French music industry.

It should be noted that the law is not only directed at iTunes, but other sites operating in the country as well. Thus, those in Windows Media format would need to provide iTunes compatible tracks in order to be in compliance.

The policy comes as part of a broader French law aimed at fighting piracy and encouraging growth in the digital music business. Another amendment to the bill, which would have made P2P legal if users paid a fee, has been scrapped for the time being.

Those who download illegally would be subject to a fine of 38 euros, which increases to 150 euros if they are found to be sharing files with others. Those who make software which helps illegal file sharing could face jail sentences of up to three years and 300,000 euro fines.

The law is an effort to bring France's copyright laws in line with EU standards; both it and Spain missed the December 2002 deadline to do so. If approved by the upper house of the French legislature, the law would likely take effect in June.

Apple has refused to comment on the situation.

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