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France eats the 'Apple'
by Satya Prakash
Issue 14
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After Adam and Eve, it is the turn of French government to eat the forbidden fruit, and that too is a huge bite. In the series of never ending controversial news emanating from France, this time it is the French government versus the online music sellers. The lower house of French legislature Assemblé National has passed a bill requiring sellers of digital music players and online music to become interoperable.

This simply means music brought from any store can be played in any digital music player, bypassing the whole concept of DRM (digital rights management). At present the music brought from stores of Apple, Microsoft, Sony, etc. can be played only in their own digital players.

This move will hurt all the players in the industry but Apple being leader of the pack is miffed most. It has sold 1 billion proprietary iTune music from its online store and 42 million iPods, which is considered the next best thing after bread and butter to happen in the music industry.

According to the bill, it is wrong, for example, the music bought from iTunes store to play only in the iPod. Apple has denounced the move calling it as 'state sponsored piracy' and vibes from US governments seems to be supporting Apple. The fact is, after burning the music bought from iTunes, it can be changed in any format and also iPod does not play only the music from iTunes store. So what was the need for this bill? France says it wants to stop a monopoly in the online music industry.

Customers at first might find it a welcome move but it is not. The music industry is still nascent and trying to stabilize after years of piracy, illegal download and sharing. A mature music market will always be in favour of customers which could be wiped out due to this bill. It has been time and again proved that competition in free market is the only thing which favours customers. The threat is not only from France but from other countries replicating the French move. Already in Denmark the government is petitioned by local music sellers to introduce a similar bill.

It is yet to see how Apple reacts if the bill is passed by French senate and made a law. It might take off its iTune store from France. It does not make as much money from iTune music as from iPod so this should be a worthy decision to operate in France under the new law. The other reason for making this move could be the fact that if in some way the music of iTune is made interoperable in France this could be done in any other country. No one can stop a software to run in other places on internet. Shutting the shop in one country makes sense than losing the whole business.

Is this latest move of French government confusing? To some it might seem so. On the one hand it is trying to create an open competition in the music industry and on the other hand it is blocking Italian company to buy the French energy firm or Netherlands based Mittal steel company to buy Arcelor. What it is for? Protectionism or free market? On a little deeper analysis the picture is crystal clear. Anything is okay for France as long as it is in its favour. The only thing which works in France is nationalism.

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