Europeans increase pressure on Apple's iTunes DRM

European government agencies are pressuring Apple Computer to make iTunes compatible with competitive music distribution formats.

In Norway and Sweden, consumer protection agencies are pushing Apple to remove restrictions that prevent customers from playing music they bought through iTunes on devices made by other companies, the International Herald Tribune reported. The British recording industry's trade association — B.P.I. — told a Parliamentary committee last week that iTunes music should be made compatible with other portable music devices.

The Consumer Ombudsman's Office of Norway, a government authority with the power to fine companies for marketing and business practices that it deems unfair, said last week that some parts of the iTunes user agreement violate Norwegian law.

It cited, among other provisions, Apple's reservation of the right to change the terms of the agreement without notice and its disclaimer of responsibility for computer viruses or other damage that might result from downloading music from iTunes. Bjorn Erik Thon, director of the ombudsman's office, told the newspaper those provisions must be changed by June 21, or Apple could be fined.

Early last year, the European Union Competition Commission opened an investigation into Apple's pricing practices at the behest of Britain's Office of Fair Trading, the newspaper said. Users of the British iTunes Web site are charged 99 pence, or $1.82, for most iTunes tracks, while French users are charged 99 euro cents, or $1.25.

“European regulators are clearly concerned that consumers need to get a fair deal when they buy music online,” Struan Robertson, a British-based technology lawyer at Pinsent Masons, told the Tribune. “Since we share very similar competition laws across the E.U., a domino effect could cause changes across the Continent.”

Apple, which dominates the legal music download market in most countries, has so far not addressed the situation in public.