Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Will France Kill Their Golden Goose?

Leave it to the French to kill foreign entrepreneurial business.

(This is not a tirade against the French, but against the wooden-headedness of their protectionist business policies. However, even if this were an anti-French tirade, I'd have every right to spew chunks far and wide because I lived there, ate fois gras, saussisons, Croque Monsieurs, Croque Madames, and drank Gendarmes under the Eiffel Tower. For eight years. As Harvey Keitel said in The Duellists, La!)

The French aren't bad people, really, but their most tragic character flaw is they fight to protect their way of life at the cost of driving good foreign business into the ground... and out of the country.

Example: 1991. Virgin opens up a Megastore on the Champs Ellyses, that huge thoroughfare running between The Arc de Triomphe and The Louvre. Virgin's Megastore—selling CDs, videos, etc.—is open all weekend, which is a "threat" to local businesses who don't open all weekend. Virgin is then accused of breaking labor union laws by "forcing" their employees to work over a weekend, and Virgin is told they'll be fined 100,000FF if they stay open on Sunday.


Are you fucking kidding me?!?!?!?

Let me get this straight... Joe Blow works for six days and wants to take off Sunday as mandated by French labor laws. Okay, that sounds reasonable enough to me. But then Joe's company wants to stay open on Sunday, too... Fine. Where is it mandated that Joe has to be the same person who works on Sunday??? If your country has nearly 10% unemployment like France did in 1991, are you really going to tell me Virgin is being the bad guy here because they're giving people more work?

What? Huh? Are you high?

Call me a pro-industry lobbyist or conservative snagglepuss, but when a family is unable to feed their children, how is any business doing a disservice to their country by letting its starving citizens have the work they're in such desperate need of?

Any small business threatened by Virgin's "Draconian" methods should have hired Sunday-only workers to stay open and compete against the "big bad boy" Virgin Megastore. Or they should have rightfully gone out of business. And good riddance, too! That's how business works in a free market. The problem is labor unions are too strong in France, which makes doing any kind of new business there an uphill struggle.

And so here we are 15 years later and France is at it again. This time around, they want to crack open Apple's stronghold on the digital entertainment venue. And guess what? Their new law may very well force Apple to close iTunes in France. Bein fait, mecs! Vous etes costand pour un pays industriel!

France May Force ITunes Open
Reuters 14:55 PM Mar, 13, 2006 EST

PARIS -- France is pushing through a law that would force Apple Computer to open its iTunes online music store and enable consumers to download songs onto devices other than the computer maker's popular iPod player.

Under a draft law expected to be voted in parliament on Thursday, consumers would be able to legally use software that converts digital content into any format.

It would no longer be illegal to crack digital rights management -- the codes that protect music, films and other content -- if it is to enable to the conversion from one format to another, said Christian Vanneste Rapporteur, a senior parliamentarian who helps guide law in France.

"It will force some proprietary systems to be opened up…. You have to be able to download content and play it on any device," Vanneste told Reuters in a telephone interview on Monday.

Music downloaded from Apple's iTunes online music store currently can only be played on iPods.

The law, if enacted, could prompt Apple to shut its iTunes store in France, some industry observers say, to keep from making songs vulnerable to conversion outside France, too.

The heart of this polemic is how to create—and protect—a viable income stream from a spankin-new distribution method. I see France's point of view: they want to break Apple's monopoly of online media, which sounds fair at first glance. Look at it again, though: I want to buy online media from Apple, but I don't want to use an Apple product to view it. WTF??? That's the implicit contract from Apple: you buy it from us, you have to view it on our products. You want to see it elsewhere, buy it online elsewhere. If you can't, whose fault is that? There's no law that says other companies can't also provide online media.

If France succeeds in passing this law, then music or movies downloaded from iTunes could be converted to another format, then pirated endlessly. How, then, can Apple—or the artists whom they paid to distribute their work—make money from offering online entertainment? It may not be fair that Apple is the only goose laying the golden eggs, but is it really wise to kill the golden goose so everyone can be equally deprived of the service Apple offers?

[A follow-up to this post is here]


Kristen said...

You conservative snagglepuss, you...hehe.

Yes, I definitely have to agree with you and say this is yet another one of those incredulous WTF moments. Hell, maybe the French government figures they get enough business through tourism with all those obese Americans doing the heave-ho up the staircase of the Eiffel Tower (well, I could be putting my foot in my mouth here because I'm making an assumption that it costs money to walk that staircase...But hey, it sounds good, right?)

I can't say I'm all that familiar with foreign entrepreneurial business (although I hope to learn more through reading your blogs, Ross...hehe), but even I in the infantile stage can asses the situation and say, "Well, they've really done themselves in this time. Good luck selling enough croissants and cheese platters six days a week (excluding Sundays, of course...) to compensate for that lost Apple business".
{Shakes head...}

So is my comment long enough to qualify for stalker status? Hehe...

Ross Pruden said...

Stalker!!! Yessssssssssssss!!!!!

The French are a proud lot and won't buckle to pressure from anyone, especially not the Americans, so I don't see this issue resolving itself smoothly. We'll see how it plays.

There's a deeper lesson about pride, too—people are willing to make huge sacrifices, both physical and moral, to feel that what they've accomplished is on their own terms. Fascists, dictators and racists always regain popularity when the respective movement's leaders appeal to a person's sense of national pride. Germany's poor follows Hitler, 1934. Muslim extremists gaining support for Bin Laden in the Middle East, 2001. French anti-immigrant "patriots" bolstering Le Pen, 2002.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, it seems people are getting bent on this being an issue between France and Apple. Not so. This situation is the result of France trying to pass legislation reflecting EU directives, and their original take at it was a facsimile of the DMCA, essentially getting rid by legal means of anything close to "fair use".

In Apple's case, the current situation is not bad. You get a good store, and the copy protection removal, if cumbersome, can easily be removed. But how many other companies provide a service like that? And, check with your lawyer how legal it is with DMCA to remove Apple's FairPlay copy protection...

The fact that Apple is not going after its users for doing so does not guarantee others won't, given that they have the legal backing to sue you.

The reason the DADVSI law is making lots of noise is that tools like VLC (Video Lan Client) would become outlawed. Also, open-source player tools would be outlawed too because they would disclose how the protection works.

A large community of developers and users has been very much against this law as it was originally intended. The fight is about protecting fair-use and the amendment you're laughing at is one step to curb the monopoly of the music industry and their uncanny habit to decide for you how you should listen to music.

Andre (American, French and an iTunes user).

Anonymous said...

Apparently 8 years were not enough to master the french language.
Anyway, this new law aims at protect ing the right for citizens to listen to the music they paid for everywhere.
If you want to have to pay 5 companies to listen to the same song on 5 different devices, it is your choice ... not mine.

Ross Pruden said...

The core issue here is entitlement: in theory—in a world where we don't have to work for a living—all education and health care would be free of charge and provided the way we want it to be provided... but in the real world, someone has to pay for the service and we get it the way the companies give it to us.

For example, take ATM fees—they suck, and I sometimes feel I should be able to get cash anywhere without paying a stupid $1.50 ATM fee, but that $1.50 pays the bank to service that ATM machine. Thus, I always have a choice to not use that particular machine by walking 10 blocks to my bank. Instead, I choose to pay the $1.50 and shut the fuck up about it. In a perfect world, ATM fees wouldn't exist, but in the real world, companies provide an optional service for a fee. You pay the fee if you use the service, or choose not to use the service, but don't feel entitled to use the service and then not pay for it. In that scenario, what incentive does the business have to keep providing its service?

French people don't have to download music or movies—they can buy a DVD or CD at FNAC or Virgin, but they choose not to. Or they can download it from Warner, but Warner will charge their own fees and slap their own restrictions about how the entertainment can be listened to or shown.

In a perfect world, we could all buy rights to listen to a song or a movie only once and that right would follow us forever, no matter which medium we wanted to play it on. But in this perfect world, education and health care would be free, too. Right? Not to mention that musicians would cut out their middle man and provide music at a fraction of the cost... and film tickets would be no more than $3, not $10... In fact, I deserve to have my job protected even if it means the economy becomes stagnant...

Here, in the real world, artists need distribution companies and distribution companies need to turn a profit. Currently, they've found a pretty good way to make money off of providing digital entertainment without falling victim to too much piracy. It's not a perfect system, but it's finally starting to work.

So right now we're stuck with companies providing music and movies online for a fee and we get to play by their rules by listening to it the way they tell us we can. I'm okay with that because their system makes them rich, which means more musicians and filmmakers have a very healthy incentive to keep providing them with quality work to get distributed... so we can buy more of it. If you don't like that setup, exercise your rights as a member of the free market by not using the service. It wouldn't be the first time a company changes its policies because the general public—not an elected government—spoke up.

(By the way, you will never hear me claim that I have mastered French because I've been speaking English for over 30 years and I still haven't mastered that language. So no ad hominem attacks on the blog comments, please.)