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Norway Pushes Apple To Open iTunesBy Elizabeth Millard
Posted: January 25, 2007 9:12am PST
In an attempt to make iTunes compatible with multiple music players, Norway has threatened to sue Apple if it does not open access to the music store and its software by October 1, 2007.
Norway began targeting iTunes last June, when the country's ombudsman, Bjoern Erik Thon, stated that iTunes violated Norwegian law because it forces consumers to buy an iPod if they want to use the music service.
Thon said that iTunes is imposing unreasonable and unbalanced restrictions, and that the court could impose fines on Apple until the company agrees to tweak the service so songs can be downloaded on rival devices. The court also could close the service for Norwegian users.
Business as Usual
The wrangle with Norway is similar to a tussle that Apple had with France in early 2006, when the country proposed a law requiring online music retailers to open their proprietary systems so files can be converted to run on any digital music player. Although the law applies to other retailers, iTunes is the dominant online music seller in the country.
In response, Apple issued a statement rebuking the move, calling the proposal "state-sponsored piracy" and pointing out that legal music sales would plummet at a time when legitimate alternatives to piracy were drawing more users. Apple might respond in the same way to Norway's criticism, and to other attempts to make iTunes play nice with competing music devices.
"A long time ago, Apple made the decision that they'd be proprietary with their hardware and software," noted David Radack, chair of the intellectual property department of Pittsburgh-based law firm Eckert Seamans. "The way they've configured iTunes is consistent with their business model. Norway might not like that, but Apple isn't going to change its model to meet the traditions and requirements of other countries."
Analysts say it is likely that Apple will continue to face similar complaints over iTunes in Europe, especially in light of the fact that consumer rights groups from Germany, France, Finland, and Norway have been meeting to develop a joint position against iTunes. The organizations say that Apple is deliberately limiting users' ability to copy songs or transfer them to other devices.
"In general, under copyright law, if I buy a CD, then I own it, and if I want to sell it to a friend, I can," said Radack. "Some people see that as a copyright model for digital music, since they 'own' a song. But it's more complicated than that, because the digital age has created issues in terms of easy proliferation of digital works."
As the October deadline for opening its iTunes system nears, Apple will probably fight those efforts from Norway and other countries, Radack said.
Apple has not commented yet on the suit, but has noted in the past that it hopes European governments will encourage a competitive environment that protects intellectual property.
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