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French lawmakers have finally given approval to government-backed legislation that could force Apple to make the company’s iPod and iTunes Music Store compatible with rivals’ offerings.

The vote, which was the last legislative step before the bill becomes law, will also affect Sony’s Connect music download service in France.

If passed, some analysts believe the new law may cause Apple to close its iTunes France download store and pull the iPod from the country’s shelves instead of agreeing to open up its service to its competitors.

Currently, songs bought on iTunes can be played only on iPods, and an iPod can’t play downloads from other stores with similar premium content from major artists from competing stores such as Napster or Sony’s Connect service.

Apple, which had described an earlier draft of the copyright bill as “state-sponsored piracy”, has said it hoped the market would be left to decide “which music players and online music stores are offered to consumers”.

However, Apple may be able to still bypass the new law following amendments to the bill at the last minute.

According to lawyers, Apple and Sony could avoid sharing their FairPlay and ATRAC3 formats, providing they obtained permission from the artists whose music they sell.

The music industry is thought to be in favour of more compatibility between different online stores and players.

Britain’s main recording industry lobby, the BPI, recently told Parliament that iTunes should be made compatible with rivals’ devices.

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