Apple iTunes pricing draws EC scrutiny

Antitrust inquiry focuses on restrictive pricing by Apple, record companies

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has charged Apple Inc. and several big record companies with restrictive pricing practices in the European Union, a commission spokesman said today.

Customers in Europe pay different prices for songs bought from Apple's iTunes store depending on the country in which they live. Two years ago, a British consumer group complained to the commission that the price people pay in the U.K. is higher than in other countries, and that the iTunes Web site does not allow consumers to shop around for a cheaper price abroad.

"Consumers can only buy music from the iTunes online stores in their country of residence and are therefore restricted in their choice of where to buy music, and consequently what music is available and at what price," said Jonathan Todd, the commission spokesman for competition matters.

Apple's iTunes verifies consumers' country of residence through their credit card details, the commission said, giving the example of a consumer wanting to purchase music from iTunes' store in Belgium. To make the purchase, the consumer must use a credit card issued by a bank with an address in Belgium.

In the single European market, the distribution agreements between the record companies and Apple could amount to restrictive practices, Todd said. The commission declined to name the record companies involved.

"Apple has always wanted to operate a single, pan-European iTunes store accessible by anyone from any member state, but we were advised by the music labels and publishers that there were certain legal limits to the rights they could grant us," Apple said in a statement. "We don't believe Apple did anything to violate EU law. We will continue to work with the EU to resolve this matter."

In a press conference, Todd said that while the main focus of the antitrust case is the record companies, Apple is also charged because "it entered into restrictive agreements, too."

"Our view is that the agreements were imposed on Apple by the record companies," he added.

But the effect on the consumer is what counts, he said. British music buyers pay .79 British pounds ($1.56 U.S.), or 1.17 euros ($1.56 U.S.) per song, while people living in the 13 countries in the euro

Podcast:

European Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd comments on action against Apple and major record labels

at press conference. Duration: 11:58
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