Apple hits at French move on downloads

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Apple Computer on Wednesday blasted France’s attempt to force companies to open their music software to rivals’ portable music players, saying the move would result in “state-sponsored piracy” and plummeting music sales.

French lawmakers on Tuesday approved a controversial new law under which software makers would be forced to remove controls that limit customers’ ability to play downloaded songs on rival devices.

“If this happens, legal music sales will plummet just when legitimate alternatives to piracy are winning over customers,” Apple said.

The new law could strike a blow to Apple’s online music model, which is based on the proprietary link between its iPod personal music player and its iTunes online music store. But Apple brushed aside concerns that the law could undermine iPod sales.

“iPod sales will likely increase as users freely load their iPods with ‘inter-operable’ music which cannot be adequately protected,” the company said. “Free movies for iPods should not be far behind in what will rapidly become a state-sponsored culture of piracy.”

Sales of the iPod accounted for a large proportion of Apple’s revenues in the fourth quarter. Downloads from iTunes recently passed the 1bn mark.

Analysts and industry groups have roundly condemned the new law, which they say could undermine one of the industry’s most successful attempts to make legal music downloads work. Some have suggested that Apple may elect to close down iTunes in France rather than comply with the new law if it is approved by the country’s upper house.

One concern is that forcing online music companies to open their proprietary models could undermine licensing agreements with record labels and other content owners.

“Rights holders are going to have to be convinced that they are not going to see an explosion in de-monetised content thrown out there,” said Mike McGuire, an analyst at Gartner.

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