France and Apple’s iTunes Music Store: What about Windows DRM?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Macintosh, Music, Technology
March 30th, 2006 • 1:28 pm

There have been many articles, reports, and discussions about the proposed French DRM law. In essence, it looks like this new law would force the French iTunes Music Store to ensure compatibility of its DRM-protected tracks (sold via the iTunes Music Store in protected AAC format) with music players other than the iPod.

At the present time, of course, if you buy a protected AAC file from the iTunes Music Store, you can transfer it to your iPod, but you cannot transfer it to other portable music players by competing technology companies, which can play unprotected MP3 files and Windows Media files protected with Microsoft’s flavour of DRM protection.

What I personally find slightly intriguing, however, is the fact that the discussions on the proposed law fails to mention the reverse problem, i.e. the inability to transfer DRM-protected Windows Media files to the iPod. In fact, if we are talking about cross-platform interoperability, we should even raise the issue of the ability to play DRM-protected Windows Media files on the Mac itself, and not just on the iPod!

As a Prince fan (Prince’s own Musicology on-line music store sells DRM-protected Windows Media files), I am all too aware of the difficulties associated with DRM-protected Windows Media files. The steps that need to be taken to be able to play such files in Mac OS X are beyond ridiculous.

What it boils down to is the fact that Microsoft doesn’t support this at all. The official line coming from Microsoft is that DRM-protected Windows Media files cannot be played on the Macintosh, or at the very least that such a thing is not supported at all. Indeed, if you look at the steps required to play such files (and even these steps are not a guarantee of success), it is quite clear that this kind of thing is only for the bravest of the brave among Mac OS X users.

Of course, since Apple’s iTunes Music Store is the runaway leader of the on-line music market (although, paradoxically, its lead is much smaller in France than it is elsewhere), most of the discussion on the new French law is focused on Apple.

But when you think about it, wouldn’t this interoperability requirement also affect Microsoft’s own DRM system? Wouldn’t they too be forced to open the system in a way that makes it possible to play DRM-protected Windows Media files on the iPod?

As far as I am concerned, this is the only conclusion that makes sense. If the goal is to prevent technology companies from putting their customers in a locked-in situation, then it should also apply to other DRM systems, not just to Apple’s FairPlay system. I shouldn’t be forced to use a Windows system just in order to be able to play DRM-protected Windows Media files!

One Response to “France and Apple’s iTunes Music Store: What about Windows DRM?”

  1. Jussi says:

    If I have understood correctly, the French law would also affect Windows Media. I think the reason why this has not been discussed that much is because most tech news are written in USA. It seems that many think iPod and iTMS have same market share overseas as in USA, which is obviously not the case at least in Europe (Great Britain is part of USA in this respect:).

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