The French DADVSI intellectual property law that stirred up such controversy when it was being drafted last year eventually passed in August 2006. One of the stipulations of the final version was that DRM schemes be made interoperable, and an independent body was to be set up by the French government to supervise the process. That group, the Autorité de régulation des mesures techniques (ARMT), was officially created (French) last week.
The ARMT was givensix members; pictures of them, along with an opening speech, are available from the French government. The six will serve for six years each, and they are supposed to be fully independent. That is,they cannot have ties to the companies or industries that they will be working with.
Nicolas Jondet, a French graduate student now at the University of Edinburgh, has just posted a lengthy English discussion of the group and their work. The ARMT will be good for consumers, he argues, but it will not suddenly eliminate DRM. It will require interoperability, but the necessary information can only be requested by a company that has a legitimate interoperability problem—Microsoft, for instance, which cannot play iTunes files on the Zune.
Consumers will not be able to file interoperability requests, and they will not have access to the information that the DRM companies provide to the ARMT. Thus, the group will not suddenly make it simple for consumers to remove DRM shackles from their media, but it should get easier to transfer tunes from one DRM format to another.
The ARMT is also supposed to ensure that DRM does not prevent consumers from making legitimate uses of their works, but this is unlikely to pave the way for legalization of DVD ripping, for instance. That's because the group will apply a test that takes into consideration the effects that any decision has on the marketplace and on the ability of the content owners to profit from their content.
Although the group's power is limited, it does have teeth; it can impose large fines on any company that does not comply. Now that Apple is selling non-DRMed files from EMI and Steve Jobs has gone on record saying that he would prefer a DRM-free world, the company appears to be less concerned about measures such as France's, especially as the technical information that companies like Apple provide will remain (supposedly) private.
How times change. Last year, Apple was calling an early version of the bill "state-sponsored piracy" and there was talk of the company pulling out of France altogether. No longer; which means that iTunes Store media goodness may soon be available to all.