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Liberty, Equality, Compatibility?

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Yesterday was April 1st and Apple Computers turned 30 years old. Despite the date of its inception the founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were no fools and their company has arguably done as much to change the world of computers as Microsoft. And like its great rival it’s certainly not adverse to pissing people off. Currently it’s taking on both The Beatles and the French. Apple shares a similar name and logo to the Fab Four’s publishing company, Apple Corps, and the latter is claiming that Apple has broken a 1991 agreement not to go into the music business. Erm… has it only just noticed? No surprise then that Beatles tracks are not available via iTunes.

It’s iTunes that the French are having a pop at. The typically idiosyncratic French have voted in support of a law that if is passed by the French upper house next year will mean that Apple in France will have to open up iTunes to work with any player rather than just its iPod. Hey it’s not a completely original idea, I suggesting the same thing in a piece I wrote in August 2004.

It doesn’t stop there. The French government has proposed lowering fines for piracy from thousands of Euros to merely hundreds. A horrified Apple is wondering where would it end. "Free movies for iPods should not be far behind" a spokesman said. Sacré bleu!

In response, Apple has labelled the proposed French law as “state sponsored piracy”. What prevents other music devices from using iTunes is the fact that Apple refuses to licence out its DRM technology to other companies. But since when was DRM about preventing piracy?

Steve Jobs himself has admitted that preventing piracy is pretty much impossible. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2003 he said, “we don’t believe it’s possible to protect digital content… it only takes one stolen copy to be on the Internet. You’ll never stop that.”

So DRM doesn’t stop the determined pirate, but it sure as hell annoys the honest consumer. Just the other day my brother-in-law asked me why it was he couldn’t do what he wanted with music that he’d bought online legally. He wanted a particular song to use with the DVD movie he was putting together and was perfectly willing to part with his cash to get it. Though he’s no geek he’s technically savvy enough to buy the track, but was bewildered to find that he couldn’t just drag the track into the application of his choice on his PC even though it supported the file format.

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