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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France's Battle Against the American IPod

More than 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar led a Roman takeover of the land now known as France. The French have felt put upon by less-civilized foreigners ever since.

The latest invader to draw Gallic ire is Steve Jobs. Along with Microsoft and Sony, his Apple Computer supplies the electronic locks that most French online music stores use to limit copying of the downloadable songs they sell.

These locks are exclusive; a song file bought from Apple's online store will play only on an Apple iPod, and iPods can't play tunes from stores that use Microsoft's or Sony's locks.

Last week, the French National Assembly voted to put an end to this exclusivity. It would allow portable-device makers to force online music vendors to share the keys to their locks, or "digital rights management" systems -- which Apple has never agreed to do.

The profusion of formats certainly is confusing and irritating. Online music services use at least four different brands of locks. That forces music fans to be careful about where they shop for downloadable songs, lest they wind up with song files that won't play on their $250 MP3 player.

But they can remove the restrictions by burning the songs onto a CD, which can easily be converted back into a format their portable player supports.

That's why there's little need for governments to intervene on behalf of consumers.

But protecting buyers may not be the main impetus for the French proposal.

The rationale for the measure, two Assembly deputies told Reuters, was to "prevent the emergence of a monopoly in the supply of online culture."

This kind of argument has a familiar ring. French authorities have long been among the strongest advocates for cultural protectionism, contending that countries have the right to limit the influx of foreign movies, TV shows and songs.

Backers of the new bill apply the same thinking to technology, trying to prevent Apple's iPods and song downloads from overwhelming native competitors.

Besides, the French have proved more resistant to Jobs' charisma than Americans. Apple's store holds about 40 percent of the market in France, compared with roughly 80 percent in the United States.

That makes Apple the leader among France's 16 online music stores, but no juggernaut. The French Senate should reject the Assembly bill and let the market resolve the formatting conflict.

This piece ran as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.