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Apple’s FairPlay in Euro legal wrangle

Leave it to my fellow Europeans to make a song & dance about fair rights for music ownership.

“Norway’s Consumer Ombudsman has ruled that Apple’s FairPlay digital rights management technology violates the country’s laws by locking songs downloaded from the iTunes Store to the iPod. The ombudsman wrote a letter to Apple warning that its DRM technology must be opened to competitors.”

The timing of this news is interesting, since I only recently reported on the rumor of Apple opening up their FairPlay technology.

Question is: were Apple forced into this, or had they given thought to this before Norway considered legal proceedings?

“When you buy a music CD, it doesn’t play only on players made by Panasonic.” So says Ewald van Kouwen in Amsterdam. And let’s face it, who can argue with that?

“Torgeir Waterhouse, senior advisor at Norway’s Consumer Council, commented ‘iTunes Music Store must remove its illegal lock-in technology or appear in court. As of right now we’re heading for a big breakthrough that will hopefully pave the way for consumers everywhere to regain control of music they legally purchase.’”

I can well imagine the palpable sense of collective frustration felt throughout the whole of 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino right now.

It’s not like Apple wanted to use DRM. Quite the opposite, in fact. But, because the DRM used by Apple is the most widely used in the distribution of music for playback on portable media players, FairPlay becomes a huge target.

From a PR point of view, if Apple did intend opening up FairPlay, now is the time to strike.

It’s sad when the fair and reasonable use of the stuff we as consumers buy should be the subject of court orders rather than having common sense prevail in the first place. However, from these seemingly fringe legal skirmishes comes the possible fruits of a largely fairer future for all:

“Removing the copy protection technology that is already in place probably won’t sit well with recording labels that are already concerned about music piracy and slowing CD sales.

The idea of selling DRM-free songs is something that the labels are at least beginning to think about, however.”

What we now know is that DRM isn’t about preventing piracy, it’s a way of restricting what we can do with the things we’ve paid good money for. That has to change, and if Apple is to become case law in this regard, then so be it…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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