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EU consumer groups join forces against iTunes

January 25, 2007

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French UFC-Que Choisir and its German counterpart Ferbraucherzentralen consumer groups have joined a Nordic-led drive to force Apple Computer Inc. to change rules for its iTunes online music store, including compatibility with other digital music players.

This battle for “a more consumer friendly licensing agreement for iTunes in all of Europe” started June 2006 when consumer agencies in Norway, Denmark and Sweden claimed that Apple was violating contract and copyright laws in their countries by making its iPod the only portable music player compatible with songs purchased from the company’s iTunes Music Store.

The consumer protectionist organizations are mainly concerned about the interoperability of titles purchased, better contractual terms, and liability rules. “Consumers have a right to play the music they buy online on whatever devices they choose,” explained the four organizations, who called on music sellers to take such clauses out of agreements and stop using technical restrictions to limit this freedom. They say that iTunes should renegotiate its contracts with the music industry to allow people to download songs without DRM systems.

Apple was given until September 2007 to change its polices or face possible legal action and fines in Norway. The deadline should be enough for the group to review polices, draft new ones and re-negotiate music industry contracts. Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman Bjoern Erik Thon added that the music industry is changing so fast that Apple might have to revise its policies anyway.

Germany and France are European giants. Germany, in particular, is a big market for digital music and this move may lead other european countries to join the effort.

A French law that allows regulators to force Apple to make its iPod player and iTunes online store compatible with rival offerings already went into effect in August.

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