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France rules Apple's DRM denial not anti-competition

But it puts consumers at a disadvantage

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A French retailers attempt to force Apple to license its DRM technology has failed.

The French government's competition watchdog this week dismissed a complaint brought by VirginMega, which alleged Apple's refusal to license FairPlay ran contrary to French anti-trust law.

The retailers complaint was ruled to be short on convincing evidence, the watchdog ruled. In any case, it said, Apple's refusal to license FairPlay was on no way hampering the expansion of the digital music download market - growth indicated by the huge number of rivals popping up to compete with the iTunes Music Store.

VirginMega - a joint venture between Virgin France and local media company Lagardère - filed its complaint last August, around the time Real Networks launched Harmony, a DRM conversion system that generates FairPlay-compatible code. Apple muttered dark mumblings at the time, and waved the possibility of legal action in Real's face, but has since said or done little about it.

VirginMega uses Windows' own audio and DRM technology - it's online music service is supplied by Loudeye's European subsidiary, OD2 - which isn't supported by the iPod. Since Apple won't build WMA compatibility into the iPod, Virgin wants Apple to license FairPlay so it can incorporate the technology into the tracks it sells, making them iPod-compatible.

It wants to do so because the iPod has such a large share of the French portable music player market. By refusing to license FairPlay, VirginMega said, Apple was unfairly restricting access to that market. However, the French competition comission noted that there are plenty of WMA-compatible devices out there for VirginMega to sell to.

The watchdog admitted, however, that the lack of compatibility between rival music services and players did put consumers at a "disadvantage", but that fact was beyond the scope of its enquiry. ®

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