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Briefs (right)

France Considers Challenge
To iPod’s Winning Strategy

By Thomas Crampton

In the digital music market, France is singing a different tune.

A bill under debate in the French Parliament may require iPods to be able to play music purchased from competing Internet services, not just Apple Computer’s own iTunes Music Store, forcing changes in the business model that gave rise to the revolution in legal digital music downloads.

The outcome of the debate, which began as an update to French copyright law, is far from clear. But taken to one logical conclusion, the legislation could lead Apple, the market leader, to leave the French music business, said Jonathan Arber, a research analyst in London at the technology consultancy Ovum.

“My gut feeling is that Apple will simply pull out of France if these amendments get through,” Arber said. “Weighed against breaking their business model for all markets, it doesn’t make sense for Apple to continue operating with the iPod and iTunes in France.”

Debate lasted late into Thursday night; a vote in the National Assembly is set for next week. The bill, which also proposes to turn individual digital piracy into a violation no more serious than a parking ticket, would go next to the Senate, where it is unlikely to be altered significantly, political analysts say.

Some critics say the plan is technically unworkable, unfairly undermines Apple and opens the door to more piracy by crippling technology that protects copyrights. Supporters see France setting a long-overdue legal precedent that opens Apple’s closed iPod-iTunes digital music system to competition.

Apple would not comment on the legislation. Led by Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive, Apple persuaded the world’s major record labels in 2003 to sell songs over the Internet at 99 cents each through the iTunes Music Store.

But the price of making it inexpensive, easy and attractive for consumers to buy online — rather than sharing songs on the Internet without compensating record companies or musicians — was the use of Apple’s proprietary formats, making song buyers beholden to Apple and its players, which account for more than 70 percent of all devices sold.