Daniel Eran Dilger
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Reality Check: No, Daily Tech, EU isn’t forcing Adobe Flash on the iPhone

Daniel Eran Dilger

Jason Mick at Daily Tech writes that the EU is gearing up to push a “Digital Agenda” intended to foster interoperability, then wildly jumps to the conclusion that this means it will force Apple to implement Adobe Flash on the iPhone. He’s wrong, here’s why.
The passage he quotes from the EU communiqué says, “Since not all pervasive technologies are based on standards the benefits of interoperability risk being lost in such areas. The Commission will examine the feasibility of measures that could lead significant market players to license interoperability information while at the same time promoting innovation and competition.

The key words he pulls out are “significant market player,” which he applies to Apple’s iPhone, which allows him to speculate that “the EU may gain the power to force Apple to allow Flash onboard.”

The problem is that the entire goal of the stated document is to foster interoperability using open, documented standards. Adobe Flash is a proprietary format that does not foster interoperability at all. Adobe is also a “significant market player” but not one that is “licensing interoperability information.”

DailyTech – Pending EU Law Could Force Apple to Allow Flash, Rivals to Sync With iTunes
A Digital Agenda for Europe

Adobe Flash is vendor lock-in, not an open platform

Under the heading “Lack of interoperability,” the document Mick selectively quotes from states, “Weaknesses in standard-setting, public procurement and coordination between public authorities prevent digital services and devices used by Europeans from working together as well as they should. The Digital Agenda can only take off if its different parts and applications are interoperable and based on standards and open platforms.” [emphasis mine]

The EU isn’t working to force Apple to adopt Flash. If anything, it will promote standards such as Flash-free H.264 video and dynamic content authored in HTML5.

In fact, one of the real objectives the document states is that “public authorities should make best use of the full range of relevant standards when procuring hardware, software and IT services, for example by selecting standards which can be implemented by all interested suppliers, allowing for more competition and reduced risk of lock-in.”

Adobe Flash is vendor lock-in, as the entire point is to make all dynamic content dependent upon Adobe’s tools. None of the websites that picked up this silliness spent any time critically thinking about any of that.

Adobe’s Flash monopoly game against Apple

The EU’s music licensing mess

The real point of the document is pretty clear: opening up barriers within EU nations so that commerce works. It addresses issues like the one Steve Jobs recently pointed out: “to set-up a pan-European service an online music store would have to negotiate with numerous rights management societies based in 27 countries. Consumers can buy CDs in every shop but are often unable to buy music from online platforms across the EU because rights are licensed on a national basis.”

The actionable solutions proposed to address these issues include efforts to “simplify copyright clearance, management and cross-border licensing,” and to “ensure the completion of the Single Euro Payment Area [for electronic payment].” There’s a lot of talk about encouraging consumer trust and enhancing the availability of broadband coverage and speeds. But nothing about forcing Apple to adopt a proprietary replacement for the open web.

iTunes and standardization

The document also addresses “effective interoperability between IT products and services,” noting that “interoperability between devices, applications, data repositories, services and networks must be further enhanced.” Mick takes this to mean Apple will be forced to support everyone else’s hardware in iTunes.

Wrong again. Instead the document says “Europe’s standard-setting framework must catch up with fast-moving technology markets because standards are vital for interoperability,” and notes that “forthcoming reform of EU standardisation policy as well as in updated antitrust rules on horizontal co-operation agreements could contribute to lower royalty demands for the use of standards and thus to lower market entry costs.”

In other words, the EU hopes to police things so that technology licensed among vendors to promote interoperability will be kept fair and on a level playing field. That means Nokia will find it harder to try to skewer Apple with 3G and WiFi patent claims that demand triple what it exacts from other companies. And that the ISO’s MPEG standards are less likely to enact the future brutal licensing fees that proponents of Ogg Vobis and WebM say they fear.

There’s no real talk at all about forcing Apple “to allow third-party devices — like Android smartphones, the Palm Pre, or rival MP3 players – to sync with iTunes,” as Mick writes. “The EU has long complained about Apple’s efforts to block such syncing,” he complains. That is a valid complaint, but the real barrier to syncing is not iTunes, but rather the licensing rules pushed upon Apple by the studios and labels that prevent content (other than music) from being usable on other devices.

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Ogg Theora, H.264 and the HTML 5 Browser Squabble
Google I/O 2010 takes on Apple with PlaysForSure strategies

Apple pushes open standards for a reason

It was Apple that pushed for DRM-free music to match the open music being sold on CDs. Getting music from your PC to your Android device needn’t be subsidized by Apple, but it should be possible for the user to do, and vendors should be able to access that content with their own sync software. If the EU wants to push for some sort of interoperable licensing that allows users who bought content for one device obtain a copy that can work on another, that would a great way to open up markets and competition.

Without anything like that in place, Apple was forced nearly a decade ago to build the iTunes Store from nothing just to ensure that users of its platforms (initially the Mac, then the iPod, then the iPhone and iPad) could have plenty of music, movies and other content available to them. Microsoft and Sony wanted to use their DRM schemes to push users toward their own platforms.

It was Apple that kept the market for open MP3 and AAC alive, something that Apple haters with an ignorant axe to grind should keep in mind. Google doesn’t have any right to demand that Apple’s efforts be transferred to enrich its rival platform. Google and its Android partners can set up their own stores and maintain them just like Apple has, and develop their own media sync software just like Apple has.

What the EU can contribute is a legal framework that enables Google and other vendors to license that content without as much trouble as Apple had to deal with. It can also push for interoperable standardization of hardware interfaces and networking protocols and file types, something that Apple has long pushed for itself as a minority player in the tech industry.

  • http://www.van-garde.com adobephile

    I seriously doubt if the savvy Europeans would be caught flat-footed effectively supporting the “old technology” of Flash.

  • costello

    There are more standards problems in Europe that have to be regulated by continent itself. Apple is on the end of food chain in this problem. There are Alcatel, Erickson, Bosh, Nokia, Simens, Pupin, Philps, and others, and of course all telecoms. Much of a problem is not just make systems to work with each other but to ensure that future development want compromise existing ones. This remind me of railway problem across the Europe, and right now Europe have 3 different high speed railway systems developed and non of them have continental rich. This is a painful lesson from last century. By the way if we include Russian railways the problem going exponential. Same for the all transport systems (data wired or wireless).

  • Mike

    I also would welcome no DRM and forcing Apple to open up its movies and books for others to read without DRM. But more likely than not, the content industries will demand for such protection rather than letting consumers choose for themselves what they want to do with it. And while the EU isn’t as strict on copyright as the US, it’ll still be a large factor in determining whether to force Apple (and effectively the content industries) to not use DRM. But this is probably a pipe dream, because then movies and books would be even more easily pirated than they already are.

  • gus2000

    I find it odd that the iHaters wail about Apple’s tightly-controlled and draconian walled garden, but then cheer when the Government wants to take control instead. If you’re all about “freedom” and anti-controls, then you’re ANTI-Government and a Libertarian (which is a nice way of saying “laissez-faire anarchist”). You can’t complain about Apple having a managed ecosystem, and then insist that the Government should step in.

    What the EU is doing is not CONTROL, but rather setting up a viable market to foster competition.

  • sprockkets

    Dan, you shouldn’t reference Jason Mick ever. He’s just a loser who trolls for page hits with stupid headlines. He doesn’t deserve it. Most on DT hate that idiot.

  • MikieV

    Mike wrote in #3: “I also would welcome … forcing Apple to open up its movies and books for others to read without DRM.”

    You can’t force Apple to remove DRM from “its” movies and books – because they are -not- Apple’s movies and books.

    Apple and other online retailers are only only authorized to sell these items in the format the content owners allow.

    Its just like music: until the content-owners relent on DRM, we won’t be able to buy/rent any books or movies which don’t have some form of DRM attached.

    Not from Apple, not from -any- online retailer.

    And, if you like that the EU isn’t as uptight as the US – in regard to copyright – you are gonna just -love- the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)


  • http://www.iso200.com Dave Fitch

    When the EU’s Digital Agenda talks about interoperability, it’s not talking Flash, it’s talking *data* – particularly the need to get systems, platforms and partners sharing information seamlessly. Anyone who thinks this is about Flash hasn’t spent 10 seconds doing any research – it’s about the fundamental structural changes needed to make e-government work in Europe.

  • gslusher

    The licensing mess affects us in the US, as well. I like to listen to audiobooks in my car. I mostly get British mysteries (P D James, M C Beaton, Reginald Hill, Ruth Rendell, etc), which i buy from Audible.com. I have been trying to find several Ruth Rendell books. A few weeks ago, I went to audible.com and didn’t log in. I searched on “Ruth Rendell” and, AMAZING, the books I was looking for were available. I added two to my cart, then logged in to buy them. When I went back to the cart, the books were gone. I finally found out from audible that they were not licensed to be sold in the US. When I went to audible but didn’t log in, it didn’t know where I lived and showed everything available. Once I logged in, the system would show only books licensed for the US. I don’t know WHY those books are not licensed for sale in the US.

  • anonymous500r

    Um, do you mean Adobe Flash? The platform that’s so closed that you can actually get the spec for it – free – from Adobe? For SWF: http://www.adobe.com/devnet/swf/ and FLV: http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flv/ ?

    You can’t get the MPEG4 specs for free (unless they’ve been reverse-engineered by enthusiasts), you have to license the patents first. Anyone can write their own SWF player and anyone can make their own FLV playback chip using these specs. So all this bollocks about how MPEG4 is so open and lovely and how Flash is so closed and evil must stop. It’s a fabrication by Apple++ writers.

    [Well that explains why every modern mobile device on Earth supports playback of MPEG audio and video standards with rare incompatibilities, while no mobile devices on the planet support smoothly interoperable playback of Flash content!

    Glad you uncovered this vast conspiracy of Abobe persecution. Oh wait, no it seems that you’re wrong. A documented yet proprietary standard from a company with a terrible track record of incompetence is apparently not the same as a successful ISO standard created by a pool of the best technology companies in the world. – Dan]

  • wolf

    do not completely agree … for example, the government recommended all states and cities to switch to linux vs. microsoft. and they are very strict when it comes to hindering competition (see MS fines). Concerning railways – sure – after all (even though light years ahead of the USA) they are still developing standards with a healthy competition of various players, but you can go from Frankfurt to Paris, From Paris to London .. all in high speed trains …. Don;t forget, the European Community alone is 27 countries (all of Europe 47 countries), very different countries in terms of development. How may countries has the USA synchronized it’s technologies with? Yep. exactly! So I’d say the accomplishments of Europe are immense and it’ll take decades to get even near that here in the USA. And thank you Dave Fitch for your comment and the link to http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/36967 – If people think Europe would push proprietary standars, they don’t get it at all, unless they actually do but want to manipulate the public by intentionally misinforming them. If we only had a credibility monitor for websites ….

  • wolf

    my comment right above was supposed to start with @costello … do not completely agree …. (sorry)