Who'd like to open up FairPlay? Norwegians would.

A lot of blah-de-blog about Norway declaring Apple's DRM illegal, most sourcing this OUT-LAW.COM (WHY THE ALLCAPS GUYS?) post:

Apple's digital rights management lock on its iPod device and iTunes software is illegal, the Consumer Ombudsman in Norway has ruled. The blow follows the news that consumer groups in Germany and France are joining Norway's action against Apple.

The Norwegian Consumer Council, Forbrukerradet, lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman on behalf of Norwegian consumers claiming that the Fairplay DRM system acted against the interests of consumers. It said that the fact that the technology stopped songs bought from iTunes being played on any player other than an iPod broke the law in Norway.

The Ombudsman has now agreed, according to Torgeir Waterhouse, senior advisor at the Consumer Council.

This snippet from a Tuesday AP story adds another detail about the Norwegian situation (which sounds a lot like a really bad spy/thriller/novel/movie starring Matt Damon):

Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman Bjoern Erik Thon said Norway gave Apple until September to change its polices, or face possible legal action and fines in the country.

“It cannot be good for the music industry for them to lock music into one system,” he said.

A Financial Times article seems more definitive:

The ombudsman has set a deadline of October 1 for the Apple to make its codes available to other technology companies so that it abides by Norwegian law. If it fails to do so, it will be taken to court, fined and eventually closed down.

Nine months before “possible legal action” seems slightly less urgent than “Apple DRM is illegal in Norway,” so this already sounds like less of a story than it might otherwise be; Apple has plenty of time to press their case with the Norwegian authorities. Large commercial interests seem to have good success with convincing governments of merits of their point of view.

Let's assume that Apple doesn't simply pull the iTunes Store out of the Norwegian market, and that it licenses FairPlay to other vendors (and, I assume, other DRM schemes are opened up on similar terms) globally. How much better off are we as customers?

Obviously we'd gain some interoperability. I happen to think this is a non-issue in the digital music market, since the big systems (iPod-iTunes-iTunes Store vs Windows Media PlaysForSure vs Zune-Zune Marketplace) all offer roughly identical catalogs. More importantly, all players support the unrestricted music formats you get from ripping CDs or by other means. 

Yes, if you eventually wish to move from one system to another, you'd have to forsake your investments in restricted content, but that's often true in technology. Moving from Mac to Windows or Linux, or from Quark to InDesign means leaving some of your bits behind. At best, the tools your moving from give you some way to export in a format supported by the tools you're moving to. Of course, you may lose some bells and whistles (formatting, macros, metadata, whatver), but that's lock-in we've lived with for years. Some companies even make a living out of reverse-engineering and converting incompatible file formats.

A far better (and less command-economy-style) solution would be to let people reverse-engineer DRM so we could preserve our investments in content. I can't cite the specific law in Norway, but I'm sure that, like the DMCA did in the US, that solution illegal.

Source: Apple DRM is illegal in Norway, says Ombudsman | OUT-LAW.COM


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