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Digital Rights Management in France

Referring to the DADVSI bill amending the French copyright act, BBC reports that “Apple gets French iTunes reprieve.” One of many previous versions of the bill had ruled that digital music should be playable on all players regardless of its DRM protection. The general intention is, says Berkman intern and researcher Daniel Haeusermann, to ensure the interoperability of DRM systems:

"For instance, songs purchased at the Apple’s iTunes Music Store can only be played on iPods, not on third party MP3 players. Against this backdrop, DADVSI creates a mechanism by which companies such as Apple can be forced to share their DRM system with competitors."

So, what happened?

Daniel explains: "The new element is the possibility of rightsholders to set restrictions to the interoperability of DRM systems: In other words, record labels could strike deals with online music stores allowing the latter to restrict which systems and devices the music will play on. In the first instance, this is a political compromise after much back and forth in French parliament and heated political debate. Yet, there are other motives that might have come into play with this compromise: First, as the BBC reports, Apple would have shut its French iTunes store rather than comply with a law that did not enable rightsholders to have a say in the matter of interoperability. Second, more fundamentally, France is the homeland of “Droit d’auteur” copyright regimes, centering around rightsholders, not intermediaries. (Note that it is by no means self-evident that DRM protection is part of copyright law and not, e.g. competition law.) Third, French copyright policy has aimed at preserving French culture for a long time. The French music industry has a strong position in the music market, but there is no strong French online music store. With the present bill, French record labels have the possibility to insist on the interoperability of their content, allowing them to preserve their strong market position in the environment of online music distribution. On the other hand, major U.S. record labels may continue to lock their music to a specific platform. As the mechanism just described relies on contracts between the music industry and online music distributors, much of its outcome depends on their respective bargaining power."

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