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Apple Still Displeased With French Music Bill

California and the West

June 23, 2006|From the Associated Press

Leading French lawmakers voted Thursday to water down a draft copyright law that could force Apple Computer Inc. to make its iPod music player and iTunes online store compatible with rivals' offerings.

But the changes did not appear to go far enough to satisfy Apple, which dropped the strongest hint yet that it might withdraw from the French download market rather than comply.

Currently, music bought at Apple iTunes can be played only on iPods, and an iPod can't play songs bought at rival online stores, such as Sony Corp.'s Connect. Critics have called the restrictions anti-competitive and anti-consumer, but the lock-in is a key part of the companies' business models.

The National Assembly, France's lower house, voted in March to force companies such as Apple and Sony to abandon their closed approaches and hand over exclusive copy-protection technologies to any rival.

Although the compromise adopted Thursday still asserted that companies should share the technical data essential to such "interoperability," it toned down many of the tougher measures backed by the lower house.

It also maintains a loophole that could allow Apple and others to dodge data-sharing demands by striking deals with record labels and artists.

Apple, which had condemned the lower house proposals as "state-sponsored piracy," nevertheless hinted that the new draft law could affect its presence in France.

"We are awaiting the final result of France's legislative process and hope they let the extremely competitive marketplace driven by customer choice decide which music players and online music stores are offered to consumers," the company said after the vote.

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