France Okays Weakened iTunes Law

Instead of being forced to open up digital rights, Apple and rivals are winning a "get out of jail free" card

France has given the thumbs up to the defanged version of a controversial law that would have forced Apple to open up its iTunes digital rights management (DRM).

The Dadvsi law, which originally included provisions to allow users to crack DRM and oblige Apple to interoperate with its rivals' music download services and vice versa, gained the approval of French lawmakers yesterday.

Now, the bill gives Apple and its rivals a get out of jail free card - while interoperability is still mandated, it doesn't have to be enforced if the online song shops have the permission of the rights holders - musicians and record labels, for example - to use DRM.

The watered-down law has drawn fierce debate in the French parliament. A group of French deputé from the UMF party signed an open letter to the commission in charge of reviewing the bill, demanding full interoperability be written into the text of the bill. Others refused to take part in the commission, on the grounds that their strong opinions on the issue would not be heard and they didn't want to appear to support the commission's stance by being involved.

The bill must still win approval from both houses of the French parliament. The first vote on it is expected to go ahead next week.

Deputé for the Côte d'Or, Alain Suguenot, criticised the commission. He told sister site ZDNet France: "When we arrived at the meeting, we discovered that there were 55 new amendments which rewrote a section of the bill. The two legislators in charge of writing up the bill had worked in secret to [write this new section] and we would have had to take a stance on these new propositions in just a few minutes."

The original wording of the bill drew Apple's ire and the iPod maker had threatened to cease operating in the country rather than share its DRM secrets with the likes of Microsoft. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.