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German, French Consumer Groups Join Call For Open iTunes

Consumer agencies in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are leading the effort to force Apple to open its service to competitors, including players that support Microsoft's Windows Media format.

German and French consumer groups have joined their counterparts in Nordic countries in calling on Apple to make songs sold on its iTunes music store compatible with digital music players other than the iPod.

Consumer agencies in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are leading the effort to force Apple to open its service to competitors, including players that support Microsoft's Windows Media format. Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman Bjoern Erik Thon told the Associated Press that the French consumer lobby UFC-Que Choisir and its German counterpart Ferbraucherzentralen have joined the Nordic-led campaign.

Apple on Tuesday released a statement saying it was aware of the concerns in Europe. "We've heard from several agencies in Europe, and we're looking forward to resolving these issues as quickly as possible," the company said. "Apple hopes that European governments will encourage a competitive environment that lets innovation thrive, protects intellectual property and allows consumers to decide which products are successful."

Chris LeTocq, analyst for Guernsey Research, said it was unlikely Apple would budge from making iTunes music available anywhere but on the iPod. "They are the majority market holder with iTunes and the iPod, and they have a business model built around it," he said. "I really don't see them changing."

Indeed, Apple reported that the iPod gained market share in the first quarter ended Dec. 30 in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Austria, and Denmark, according to the AP.

The anti-Apple sentiment in Europe is related to a general dislike among consumer groups for digital rights management technology that limits consumers' use of the media they buy, LeTocq said. The technology is used to protect copyright holders, but detractors say it often goes too far.

"This is a populace anti-DRM movement," LeTocq said. "This is a public relations exercise much more than a legal exercise."

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether consumer groups can mount enough political pressure to force governments to take action against Apple. Thon told the AP that Norway has given Apple until September to change its technology or face possible legal actions and fines. French regulators, on the other hand, have the legal authority to order Apple to make changes.

Despite the looming threats, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is unlikely to open iTunes. "It's going to be a cold day in hell before he agrees to it," LeTocq said.

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