Wednesday, March 22, 2006

French Twist to DRM Puts Apple on Defensive

BBC News reports on a bill now passed by the lower house of France's legislature that would require content providers to offer non-proprietary DRM software on devices such as Apple's iPod. The bill is headed to France's Senate, but in the meantime according to the BBC Apple is firing back decrying "a state-sponsored culture of piracy." This of course ignores evolving open DRM standards promoted by organizations such as the Open Mobile Alliance, which would encourage the use of copyrighted content with DRM controls that don't lock a user into a specific platform. While the fate of this bill is still up for grabs it's clear that European and Asian markets are going to be looking for every advantage that they can find in re-establishing their hold on rapidly emerging mobile content markets in which much of today's entertainment is going to be consumed in the years ahead. To do this they must be able both to protect intellectual property rights and have access to platforms that allow them to have a firmer say over how content is licensed and priced.

Apple's long-standing approach to keeping its sliver of market share has been to develop really nicely designed products to soften the ultimately unappealing prospect of being locked into a proprietary platform. That's served them reasonably well up to this point but with a burgeoning marketplace for open standard platforms and greater consumer demand to have content licensing separated from platforms it's a battle that's not likely to favor their content lock-down scheme in the long run. But then again we're all dead in the long run, as they say, so Apple and other dominant media-oriented companies are going to continue to resist the call for open DRM standards as long as possible.

In the meantime content suppliers that are glad to work with open DRM standards are likely to increase over the next few years, creating new forms of competition based both on the inherent quality and marketability of DRM-enabled content and its ability to go where users would like it to go. France's rebel role in this debate is not likely to shake world markets any time soon but it will begin to accelerate the discussion amongst content providers towards a consideration of how DRM can be used to effect not only short-term profits but a long-term independence from the designs of technology providers that may not have content producers' profitability foremost in their minds.
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