Tuesday, March 13, 2007

EU Commissioner Blasts Apple's iTunes

EU consumer affairs commissioner Meglena Kuneva has criticised Apple's online music store iTunes saying consumers should have free choice of where they want to play their music bought on iTunes.

"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," Ms Kuneva stated in an interview with German weekly magazine Focus on Monday (12 March). "Something has to change," she added.

At the moment, music purchased through iTunes is protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) meaning that it can only be played on five different computers and on an unlimited number of Apple iPods but on no other MP3 players (see BusinessWeek.com, 02/26/07, "Apple's International iTunes Controversy").

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—a time-consuming process.

Other companies follow the same system as Apple. 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.

European consumer groups

Ms Kuneva's comment—which is purely her personal view according to the European Commission—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.

The consumer ombudsman in non-EU country Norway concluded in January that the iTunes music store breaches Norwegian marketing law and has given Apple until 1 October 2007 to make its codes available to other technology companies or face court action in the Nordic country.

"Ms Kuneva's comment shows her heart is in the right place," the head of the European Consumer group BEUC, Jim Murray, told EUobserver.

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.

Mr Jobs explained that if he shares the secret codes Apple uses to copy-protect music downloaded from iTunes with other companies, it could no longer guarantee to protect the music it licenses from the four major labels—Vivendi's Universal Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, EMI and Warner Music Group—which could put at risk its licenses to sell the music.

He instead suggested that one alternative was to abolish DRMs entirely so that every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats.

"This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat," he said in the letter, adding that it was up to the big four music companies to license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with DRM.

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