France’s iTunes law takes effect

France’s iTunes law takes effect


Let the battle begin.

French President Jacques Chirac has signed into law a statute designed to reduce Apple’s dominance of the online music download market. Technically, it is an Internet copyright law. Equally technically, it allows French regulators to force Apple to make iTunes especially, and the iPod generally, compatible with sites and players made by other manufacturers.

At issue is the hand-in-glove design of iTunes itself. If you buy a song on iTunes, you can play that song only on an iPod. In the same way, if you buy a song on another download site, you can’t play that song on an iPod. It is that propriety that the French law is designed to fight.

The law has been several weeks in coming, and French lawmakers and representatives from Apple have traded barbs and charges throughout the process. Parliament initially passed the law on June 30; but the government’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, voided several key parts of the law last week, saying that those measures violated Apple’s property protection rights. Parliament then revised the law, removing the objectionable elements, and passed it again. Chirac’s signature means that the statue is now law.

Apple, of course, is not happy with the law, although company representatives have not had official comments so far today. The number of French users of the iTunes site and of iPods is substantial, so the law should have some sort of “chilling effect.” Other countries are certain to follow suit. Relevant discussions among lawmakers have taken place recently in Denmark, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.