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French Bill May Hurt ITunes Sales

California and the West

March 22, 2006|From Times Wire Services

French lawmakers approved an online copyright bill Tuesday that would require Apple Computer Inc. to break open the exclusive format behind its market-leading iTunes music store and iPod players.

The draft law -- which also sets new penalties for music pirates -- would force Apple, Sony Corp. and others to share proprietary copy-protection technologies so rivals could offer compatible services and players.

Lawmakers in the National Assembly, France's lower house, voted 296 to 193 to approve the bill. The legislation now has to be debated and voted on by the Senate, a process expected to begin in May.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple said late Tuesday that the law would result in "state-sponsored piracy."

"If this happens, legal music sales will plummet just when legitimate alternatives to piracy are winning over customers," Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said.

Companies would be required to reveal the secrets of hitherto-exclusive copy-protection technologies such as Apple's FairPlay format and the ATRAC3 code used by Sony's Connect store and Walkman players.

That could allow people to download music directly to iPods from stores other than iTunes.

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