Apple, France and DRM

Let’s play The Microsoft Game, where we take a news story about Apple and replace the word “Apple” with “Microsoft”.

Microsoft has denounced France as a sponsor of piracy after the country’s parliament backed a bill that, if enacted, will force the company to open its DRM technology to other hardware vendors and online music stores.

Speaking to Reuters, a Microsoft spokeswoman blasted the move as “state-sponsored piracy”, adding: “If this happens, legal music sales will plummet just when legitimate alternatives to piracy are winning over customers.”

The company also claimed interoperable music “cannot be adequately protected”.

Bad Microsoft! Bad, bad Microsoft! But of course, it wasn’t Microsoft that said those things.

While Apple throws its toys out of the pram, let’s look at what the (proposed) legislation actually says. It doesn’t say Apple, Microsoft et al must sell DRM-free songs. It says that DRM-protected tracks must be interoperable, and that if the firms behind the various copy protection wheezes won’t do that then consumers would be legally entitled to use third-party tools to transfer files from one format to another. So for example someone who’d bought loads of iTunes downloads would be legally entitled to convert the files into something else if they decided to go for a non-iPod player.

What the French parliament is suggesting is that such conversion should be as a result of computer firms working together, rather than third parties. I don’t see the problem.

Update: Jupiter Research analyst Mark Mulligan does. he says: “If the French parliament is hoping that an industry standard DRM will come into being, the likely result is a Balkanized situation as we see in the mobile space (with OMA 2 mired in controversy) or probably Microsoft becoming the de facto standard. Remember that the majority of Europe’s 200 digital stores are already WMA based.”

And as for this bit:

interoperable music “cannot be adequately protected”.

Bullshit! Apple’s DRM has been cracked. Microsoft’s DRM has been cracked. I’d post links to the appropriate programs if doing so didn’t violate about 300 recently passed laws.

Yes, any conversion tool that the two firms (or three firms, if you include Sony) could possibly create would be cracked too. But that’s irrelevant, because DRM always gets cracked. Always. Not that you need to crack it, because every song you can burn to CD can be re-ripped as a DRM-free MP3 and shared illegally. Not that there’s any real need to do that either: albums continue to leak long before they’re available to the public.

This has got nothing to do with piracy.