22nd Apr 2019


Apple's iTunes risks EU backlash after Norway ruling

Norway has deemed Apple's iTunes illegal because its downloaded songs cannot be played on music players from rival companies. European consumer groups are working closely with Norway and want Brussels to make EU-wide legislation in the area.

The Norwegian consumer ombudsman has concluded that the iTunes music store breaches Norwegian marketing law and has given Apple until 1 October to make its codes available to other technology companies or face court, he told EUobserver.

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Apple's iTunes currently dominates the legal download market but songs bought and downloaded through iTunes are compatible only with the market-leading Apple iPod music player and not with rival MP3 players.

"It is the moment to act," said consumer ombudsman Bjørn Erik Thon. "Digitalisation is going faster than ever and companies are linking content with gadgets," he explained, seeing the model as a limitation of consumer choice.

The digital music market is a rapidly booming industry with the sale of songs downloaded from the internet growing at over 100 percent a year in the EU alone.

Although Norway is not an EU member, Mr Thon hoped Brussels would look at possible EU legislation in the area. "This is an international issue," he said, adding that the digital market was way ahead of any potential legislation on EU level.

Up to 45 percent of western Europeans already download music singles instead of buying CDs in a fast-growing trend, with Apple accounting for 70 percent of all legally-downloaded songs worldwide.

The decision is the first time any jurisdiction has concluded iTunes breaks its consumer protection laws and is already leading other European countries to review the situation.

A pan-European move

Denmark, Finland and Sweden have backed Norway's stance, but have yet to take action and the Nordic campaign was joined by Germany and France this week.

In France, a law that allows regulators to force Apple to make its iPod player and iTunes store compatible with rival offerings went into effect in August last year.

But Paris watered down its original anti-iPod bill under pressure from Apple and US diplomats this summer, who warned the law could kill off the best alternative to the pirate digital music scene.

The consumer groups from the respective countries have agreed to joint positions in a legal battle to achieve consumer friendly conditions for iTunes across Europe.

"We believe consumers have a right to play material purchased online on a portable device of their own choice," the groups said in a joint statement on Monday (22 January).

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Apple's chief executive has told European consumer groups unhappy with the company's policy of not making music playable on competitors' devices to direct their anger towards the big music companies instead - as they are the ones demanding copyrights restrictions.

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