Mon Dieu! Don’t MiniTel Apple

by on March 27, 2006 · 28 comments

French legislators recently approved a bill that will force technology companies such as Apple Computer to share proprietary technology with rivals. Such a move is not only a recipe for disaster but completely unnecessary.

The digital music market has always been a tumultuous place. For a long time, Hollywood and Silicon Valley battled over how to sell music while avoiding the theft of digital goods. Now that there’s a truce and Apple’s iTunes store just sold its 1 billionth legally downloadable song, it’s more than a little ironic that the French government wants to essentially steal Apple’s intellectual property.

“The French implementation of the EU Copyright Directive will result in state-sponsored piracy,” Apple said in a statement. “If this happens, legal music sales will plummet just when legitimate alternatives to piracy are winning over customers.”

It’s not a given that a standardized platform would promote music piracy as Apple implies, but it is the case that if France’s bill passes the Senate in May, the country will be endorsing the theft of Apple’s intellectual property by its rivals. That’s not a good outcome and one might wonder what is motivating the French to take such drastic action.

Read more here.

  • V

    I don’t buy it. DRM is easy to break anyway. Piracy is rampant anyway. The French are not endorsing theft, they’re condemning DRM. iTunes customers are people who CHOSE to buy music legally rather than use P2P.

    If the customers have already made that choice, why would removing the technological barrier change their minds?

  • V

    I don’t buy it. DRM is easy to break anyway. Piracy is rampant anyway. The French are not endorsing theft, they’re condemning DRM. iTunes customers are people who CHOSE to buy music legally rather than use P2P.

    If the customers have already made that choice, why would removing the technological barrier change their minds?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Going through such measures in order to ensure interoperability between one’s devices is a bit of a hassle, but what many people might not realize is that it’s worth the trouble for the long-term gains in benefits to consumers. Consider that if Apple didn’t use DRM technology, the record companies wouldn’t let them sell their songs.

    I don’t get it. The recording industry has been selling (and continues to sell) its music on the DRM-free CD format for years. And as you point out, iTunes users can burn their songs to a CD in order to bypass the DRM. So what possible reason would record execs have for refusing to license their music to Apple?

    And are there any other “long term gains” to consumers? All I can see are disadvantages.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Going through such measures in order to ensure interoperability between one’s devices is a bit of a hassle, but what many people might not realize is that it’s worth the trouble for the long-term gains in benefits to consumers. Consider that if Apple didn’t use DRM technology, the record companies wouldn’t let them sell their songs.

    I don’t get it. The recording industry has been selling (and continues to sell) its music on the DRM-free CD format for years. And as you point out, iTunes users can burn their songs to a CD in order to bypass the DRM. So what possible reason would record execs have for refusing to license their music to Apple?

    And are there any other “long term gains” to consumers? All I can see are disadvantages.

  • Doug Lay

    I think the proposed French law is a pretty bad one. A far better approach to promoting consumer rights would be to simply rescind (or not pass in the first place) any laws banning anti-circumvention devices.

    Nonetheless, I think it’s pretty ridiculous to rail about the “theft of Apple’s intellectual property by its rivals.” It’s the government doing the confiscating, not the rivals.

  • Doug Lay

    I think the proposed French law is a pretty bad one. A far better approach to promoting consumer rights would be to simply rescind (or not pass in the first place) any laws banning anti-circumvention devices.

    Nonetheless, I think it’s pretty ridiculous to rail about the “theft of Apple’s intellectual property by its rivals.” It’s the government doing the confiscating, not the rivals.

  • James Gattuso

    “And are there any other “long term gains” to consumers? All I can see are disadvantages.”

    Tim — the point isn’t whether you or I see disadvantages. It’s not up to us, or the French government, to second-guess Apple or the music companies decision to make it harder to copy their products. Its their property, and their decision to make.

  • James Gattuso

    “And are there any other “long term gains” to consumers? All I can see are disadvantages.”

    Tim — the point isn’t whether you or I see disadvantages. It’s not up to us, or the French government, to second-guess Apple or the music companies decision to make it harder to copy their products. Its their property, and their decision to make.

  • Joel Bernstein

    While I initially disagreed with Sonia’s post, the more I think about it, the more I think that it was absolutely right.

    Fairplay is Apple’s patented technology for encoding and decoding content in a protected manner. Rather than allow the circumvention of this encoding, as Doug pointed out, the French law requires Apple to license this technology to rivals, and presumably sets mandatory terms (if not, the licensing requirement is meaningless).

    Nobody would like to see the end of DRM more than me, but forcing Apple to license their patents to competitors will not accomplish anything good, and is a clear violation of Apple’s patent rights.

  • Joel Bernstein

    While I initially disagreed with Sonia’s post, the more I think about it, the more I think that it was absolutely right.

    Fairplay is Apple’s patented technology for encoding and decoding content in a protected manner. Rather than allow the circumvention of this encoding, as Doug pointed out, the French law requires Apple to license this technology to rivals, and presumably sets mandatory terms (if not, the licensing requirement is meaningless).

    Nobody would like to see the end of DRM more than me, but forcing Apple to license their patents to competitors will not accomplish anything good, and is a clear violation of Apple’s patent rights.

  • Joel Bernstein

    Further note: I think software patents are idiotic, and if France wants to revoke all of them at once, they have my blessing.

  • Joel Bernstein

    Further note: I think software patents are idiotic, and if France wants to revoke all of them at once, they have my blessing.

  • V

    James, most of the time I would agree that the government does not have the right to a business what to sell and how. But it doesn’t apply with music. Customers don’t buy music for the record labels, they buy it for the artist. If Panasonic TV’s started imposing bizzare controls we’d switch to JVC. That doesn’t work here. If you refuse to buy from Sony-BMG because of their little rootkit incident you’re choosing to stop buying certain artists altogether.

    Moreover copyright issues are the government’s business. Governments have always set the copyright standards to protect the creator’s and public’s interest.

    I have not read the actual law, so I could be mistaken, but my understanding is that its an attack on DRM, not Apple. Apple just gets all the attention because its such a heavyweight.

  • V

    James, most of the time I would agree that the government does not have the right to a business what to sell and how. But it doesn’t apply with music. Customers don’t buy music for the record labels, they buy it for the artist. If Panasonic TV’s started imposing bizzare controls we’d switch to JVC. That doesn’t work here. If you refuse to buy from Sony-BMG because of their little rootkit incident you’re choosing to stop buying certain artists altogether.

    Moreover copyright issues are the government’s business. Governments have always set the copyright standards to protect the creator’s and public’s interest.

    I have not read the actual law, so I could be mistaken, but my understanding is that its an attack on DRM, not Apple. Apple just gets all the attention because its such a heavyweight.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Doug Lay: I agree! The French law isn’t the right approach.

    James Gattuso: I’m not saying that the government should force Apple to open up its platform. I agree that Apple has a right to use DRM if they want to. But Arrison claims that doing so is in the interests of consumers, and that without DRM record companies wouldn’t make their product available. Those are empirical claims, and they seem wrong to me. I’m just trying to figure out what she means.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Doug Lay: I agree! The French law isn’t the right approach.

    James Gattuso: I’m not saying that the government should force Apple to open up its platform. I agree that Apple has a right to use DRM if they want to. But Arrison claims that doing so is in the interests of consumers, and that without DRM record companies wouldn’t make their product available. Those are empirical claims, and they seem wrong to me. I’m just trying to figure out what she means.

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    Tim: They probably wouldn’t make them available online without DRM of some kind, it’s just a question of how much DRM. What the French cannot accept is that the reason that Apple has done so well with their music store is that they have struck the right balance. They don’t seriously try to stop those who are dedicated to being pirates, they just keep the average person honest. The beauty of Apple’s burn to CD option is that if you rip the song back to a MP3, the quality will suffer because you are taking an already slightly degraded copy of a song and processing it again with lossy compression with an older, less capable codec. The key to making good DRM, as Apple has proved, is making people satisfied enough with the DRM that there is little reason to go against it.

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    Tim: They probably wouldn’t make them available online without DRM of some kind, it’s just a question of how much DRM. What the French cannot accept is that the reason that Apple has done so well with their music store is that they have struck the right balance. They don’t seriously try to stop those who are dedicated to being pirates, they just keep the average person honest. The beauty of Apple’s burn to CD option is that if you rip the song back to a MP3, the quality will suffer because you are taking an already slightly degraded copy of a song and processing it again with lossy compression with an older, less capable codec. The key to making good DRM, as Apple has proved, is making people satisfied enough with the DRM that there is little reason to go against it.

  • Ben

    I would like to start off that pointing to the French law as being another “minitel” is like releasing an article at the beginning of the iTunes Music store labeled “Don’t ‘Lisa’ music.” One failing does not dictate the future.

    But I am getting sick of companies artifically creating a tie between hardware and their service. I have a friend that just won a Palm Treo 700w and then turned around and gave it to someone else. The reason was that it was artifically tied to using Verizon’s cell network. If Kodak can’t lock you into buying only their batteries, then why does Verizon or Apple get to do it?

    The idea that the music industry does not need to provide music through the internet unless DRM is provided is false. There will be people that will download music from the internet as long as it is available to download. And there are countries on the internet that do not honor copyright law that have connections to the internet. So, if the only source of downloadable music is illegal then it will be illegal music that will be downloaded. The best way to encourage the same people to purchase music is to offer a way to purchase the music for download.

    The DRM is smoke and mirrors when it comes to stopping copyright violations. Burn-n-rip or using a virtual sound device to capture (followed by re-encoding) may degrade the quality but that is not a priority for the majority of people duplicating music over the internet. Most of the time, a re-encoded song does not degrade enough in quality to be able to tell the difference when played from ear-buds.

    If quality was a major factor, then the music industry should have done more to promote SACD. SACD has a higher resolution than CDs and supports surround sound. This would put at even greater gap between the quality of legit purchased music and the technical capablities of most MP3 encoders and players. Also, CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives currently can not read (or rip) the high quality SACD track. At the same time, SACD offered backward compatiblity with normal CD players. Instead, the music industry has only released a limited number of titles on SACD and charged an additional premium.

    The biggest problem with the French law is it helps to further promote Apple iTunes music store as the single source of music on the Internet. As Creative Labs, iRiver, Samsung and other MP3 players move to support AAC, they will do so at the cost of moving away from promoting other music stores or creating ones of their own. The music industry may discover that Apple has just as much power to dictate terms as Walmart in the USA currently has now.

  • Ben

    I would like to start off that pointing to the French law as being another “minitel” is like releasing an article at the beginning of the iTunes Music store labeled “Don’t ‘Lisa’ music.” One failing does not dictate the future.

    But I am getting sick of companies artifically creating a tie between hardware and their service. I have a friend that just won a Palm Treo 700w and then turned around and gave it to someone else. The reason was that it was artifically tied to using Verizon’s cell network. If Kodak can’t lock you into buying only their batteries, then why does Verizon or Apple get to do it?

    The idea that the music industry does not need to provide music through the internet unless DRM is provided is false. There will be people that will download music from the internet as long as it is available to download. And there are countries on the internet that do not honor copyright law that have connections to the internet. So, if the only source of downloadable music is illegal then it will be illegal music that will be downloaded. The best way to encourage the same people to purchase music is to offer a way to purchase the music for download.

    The DRM is smoke and mirrors when it comes to stopping copyright violations. Burn-n-rip or using a virtual sound device to capture (followed by re-encoding) may degrade the quality but that is not a priority for the majority of people duplicating music over the internet. Most of the time, a re-encoded song does not degrade enough in quality to be able to tell the difference when played from ear-buds.

    If quality was a major factor, then the music industry should have done more to promote SACD. SACD has a higher resolution than CDs and supports surround sound. This would put at even greater gap between the quality of legit purchased music and the technical capablities of most MP3 encoders and players. Also, CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives currently can not read (or rip) the high quality SACD track. At the same time, SACD offered backward compatiblity with normal CD players. Instead, the music industry has only released a limited number of titles on SACD and charged an additional premium.

    The biggest problem with the French law is it helps to further promote Apple iTunes music store as the single source of music on the Internet. As Creative Labs, iRiver, Samsung and other MP3 players move to support AAC, they will do so at the cost of moving away from promoting other music stores or creating ones of their own. The music industry may discover that Apple has just as much power to dictate terms as Walmart in the USA currently has now.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    I am against DRM. However, what the French are proposing presents a conundrum. The deployment of DRM technologies on computers must be prohibited. Nevertheless, if a company wants to develop a hardware device that will only work with their proprietary products, I don’t have a problem with that. The reason: If I buy the product, I would have no expectation that it would work with any other product. Additionally, should the product fail, I would have a clear idea of who to contact for repair.

    While I am on this rant, I would like to add several additional points that require further discussion in the public arena to comprehend all the adverse implications of DRM/DCMA.

    1. Lost Sales: Companies seek to make a profit. Few people mention that the insane quest for a DRM technology means lost sales. Why not sell a product based on an open standard so that you can make money now, rather than delay, delay, and delay yet again because the DRM technology is not ready for prime-time.

    2. Public Domain: Patents and copyrights expire. Yet I have not seen any reference to how a DRM technology will recognize this expiration and release the content into the public domain.

    3. Liability: DRM technologies actually TRANSFER significant liability from the content vendor to the content user. “LIABILITY” in this context means the $$costs and time of the content user in keeping their computer: operational and secure. Computers are complex and when a vendor, such as Sony installs a defective product your ability to fix it is compromised. First, trying to identify the offending vendor can be very complicated. Even if the vendor is identified they will initially say the problem is not theirs, that it must be the fault of another incompatible program. Even if they acknowledge the fault, they may not help you fix your computer.

    4. Interoperability: What happens when you have a large number of DRM technologies deployed on your computer based on propriety code and making stealth changes to the computer’s operating system. The outcome is obvious; you will have an unreliable and probably unusable computer.

    5. Dirty Tricks: What is to stop a content vendor from using their DRM technology to disable your ability to use a competitor’s content?

  • Steve R.

    I am against DRM. However, what the French are proposing presents a conundrum. The deployment of DRM technologies on computers must be prohibited. Nevertheless, if a company wants to develop a hardware device that will only work with their proprietary products, I don’t have a problem with that. The reason: If I buy the product, I would have no expectation that it would work with any other product. Additionally, should the product fail, I would have a clear idea of who to contact for repair.

    While I am on this rant, I would like to add several additional points that require further discussion in the public arena to comprehend all the adverse implications of DRM/DCMA.

    1. Lost Sales: Companies seek to make a profit. Few people mention that the insane quest for a DRM technology means lost sales. Why not sell a product based on an open standard so that you can make money now, rather than delay, delay, and delay yet again because the DRM technology is not ready for prime-time.

    2. Public Domain: Patents and copyrights expire. Yet I have not seen any reference to how a DRM technology will recognize this expiration and release the content into the public domain.

    3. Liability: DRM technologies actually TRANSFER significant liability from the content vendor to the content user. “LIABILITY” in this context means the $$costs and time of the content user in keeping their computer: operational and secure. Computers are complex and when a vendor, such as Sony installs a defective product your ability to fix it is compromised. First, trying to identify the offending vendor can be very complicated. Even if the vendor is identified they will initially say the problem is not theirs, that it must be the fault of another incompatible program. Even if they acknowledge the fault, they may not help you fix your computer.

    4. Interoperability: What happens when you have a large number of DRM technologies deployed on your computer based on propriety code and making stealth changes to the computer’s operating system. The outcome is obvious; you will have an unreliable and probably unusable computer.

    5. Dirty Tricks: What is to stop a content vendor from using their DRM technology to disable your ability to use a competitor’s content?

  • http://crescatsententia.org PLN

    Joel–I thought Europe didn’t *have* software patents yet.

  • http://crescatsententia.org PLN

    Joel–I thought Europe didn’t *have* software patents yet.

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