EU Commissioner Sounds Off Against iTunes

The European Commission is looking at the possibility of forcing Apple to unbundle the link between its iTunes on-line music store and the iPod music player.



LONDON — The European Commission is looking at the possibility of forcing Apple to unbundle the link between its iTunes on-line music store and the iPod music player.

In an interview with the German magazine Focus EU consumer protection commissioner Meglena Kuneva is quoted as saying "something has to change" in the way Apple has linked the two such that tracks bought through iTunes will only work on iPods.

"Do you think it's fine that a CD plays in all CD players but that a song purchased from iTunes only plays in an iPod? I don't," the Commissioner told the magazine.

Kuneva's comment — which the Commission stressed is purely her personal view — comes after European consumer groups in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands have made complaints against Apple on several occasions for the same reason.

Norway, which is not in the European Union, has gone further and in January said Apple will face legal action in the country unless it liberalizes its music download system by October.

They all argue that Apple uses Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology that limits consumers' actions since downloads through iTunes can only be played on five different computers and on an unlimited number of iPods but on no other MP3 players.

Users with computer knowledge avoid the restriction by burning the music bought on iTunes on a CD in MP3-format and then reintroduce the music on the computer to transfer it to their MP3 player.

Apple is not the only one to use such a system . For instance music purchased from Microsoft's Zune store only play on Zune players and the same goes for music purchased from Sony's Connect store for Sony's players.

So far, the EC, and especially its anticompetition office, has taken no official action and the running has been made by European consumer protection agencies. However, the Commissioner's words, even if taken as a personal view, suggests the EC may in future open a front against the practice.

Last month, Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs in a letter told European consumer groups to direct their anger towards the big record labels instead, as they are the ones demanding the restrictive DRMs. He suggested that one alternative was to abolish DRMs entirely so that every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats.

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