Norway steps up action against Apple over iTunes tie-in

Out-Law News | 30 Sep 2008 | 2:42 pm | 1 min. read

Apple will face action in Norway over the fact that its iTunes music shop sells tunes that cannot be played on devices that compete with Apple's iPod. The case has been referred to the Market Council, which can order companies to change their behaviour.

Advert: free OUT-LAW Breakfast Seminars - 1. Making your contract work: pitfalls and best practices; 2. Transferring data: the information security issuesThe Consumer Ombudsman has referred the case to the Market Council because it says that the restrictions are against the law.

"It’s a consumer’s right to transfer and play digital content bought and downloaded from the Internet to the music device he himself chooses to use," said Consumer Ombudsman Bjørn Erik Thon. "ITunes makes this impossible or at least difficult, and hence they act in breach of Norwegian law."

The Ombudsman first looked at the problem of the lock-in to iPods by the iTunes service when a complaint was registered by the Norwegian Consumer Council in 2006. In 2007 it ruled that the restrictions were illegal because it acted against the interests of consumers, who should be able to choose on what device they play music bought on iTunes. Apple's Fairplay digital rights management (DRM) technology prevents that on most tracks.

The Ombudsman's office said that Apple had made minor concessions by changing the contract terms in relation to the conversion of files to formats that will play on other devices, but it said that the movement was not sufficient.

"Even with these adjustments, the ties between iTunes and iPod by use of non-interoperable DRM technology is in breach of the law. Therefore, I have told iTunes that I will now submit the matter to the Norwegian Market Council," said Thon.

The Consumer Ombudsman's office said that it met with Apple in Berlin in February of this year and was told that Apple wanted to sell music without any DRM. But the Ombudsman said that Apple should have acted by now.

"ITunes has now had two years to meet our demands regarding interoperability. No progress has been reported by iTunes since our meeting in February 08. The consumer’s freedom of choice in the online music market is an important right. This is a matter of great principal importance," said Thon.

The Consumer Ombudsman's office said that the Market Council is a "court of law" in the field of trade.

"The CO and the Market Council have authority to issue decisions banning unlawful marketing and contract terms and conditions in standard contracts when deemed necessary in the interests of consumers," said a statement from the Ombudsman.

The Norwegian authorities have been working with the Swedish and Danish consumer protection authorities, who are also considering action against Apple. France and Germany announced that they too would pursue the issue last year.

Apple has until 3rd November to submit its response to the plan to take the case to the Market Council.