Apple Avoids French Courts Opening FairPlay DRM

VirginMega, a joint venture between Virgin France and local media company Lagardère, has failed in its legal attempt to get Apple to license it DRM technology.

VirginMega claims that Apple’s refusal to license its FairPlay technology – the Digital Rights Management (DRM) system that allows songs from the iTunes store to be played only on iPods – is hampering the expansion of its digital music download market. The retailers complaint was ruled to be short on convincing evidence, according to the French Competition Council.

The problem, as VirginMega sees it, is that as its own online music service uses Microsoft’s audio files format (WMA) and is protected by Microsoft’s DRM technology, it isn’t supported by Apple’s iPod digital audio player. Since Apple won’t build WMA compatibility into the iPod, and as the iPod is the number one digital audio player worldwide, VirginMega is obviously miffed. Virgin wants Apple to licence FairPlay so it can incorporate the technology into the tracks it sells, thus making them iPod-compatible. The lack of compatibility between rival music services and players will certainly put VirginMega at a ‘disadvantage’, so it’ll have to look elsewhere to improve its sales to WMA-compatible devices.

Clearly Apple isn’t keen to share. Some feel that Apple may have shot itself in the foot here, as wider content support for FairPlay could help to drive the sale of iPods. By establishing AAC and the FairPlay DRM as a standards, more iPods would be sold and other standards, like WMA, would possibly be left by the wayside. Conversely if other music sites started using FairPlay, Apple would lose the relationship with the music purchaser.

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