Pressure mounts in Europe against Apple DRM

Rights management, terms of use coming under fire

Pressure is mounting in Europe for Apple Computer Inc. to loosen the ties between its iTunes music store and its iPod music players, with activity in Norway and the U.K. this week demonstrating opposition to Apple's policies.

Norway's Consumer Ombudsman has asked Apple to change some terms of agreement in its iTunes music store, and to defend its DRM (digital rights management) policy, according to the Consumer Council of Norway, which had asked the ombudsman to intervene. The Consumer Council of Norway is an independent organization that represents consumers. Similar agencies in Denmark and Sweden expect to announce on Thursday that they too have asked Apple to change the terms of its iTunes agreement.

Earlier this year the Consumer Council of Norway asked the consumer ombudsman in Norway to rule that Apple's DRM violates the Norwegian Copyright Act because it hinders users from playing music that they buy on the music player of their choice. "We consider this not to be what Apple claims, which is to restrict illegal copying, but that it's used as a tool to lock the consumer to Apple's product," said Torgeir Waterhouse, a senior advisor on the Consumer Council.

He said that while the ombudsman agreed with the consumer council's complaint, it also recognized that a change to Apple's DRM policy constitutes a major change in the company's business model. Therefore, this week, the ombudsman asked Apple to reply by June 21 and offer its view on its DRM policy before the Ombudsman makes a formal ruling on the issue.

The ombudsman did rule this week that some conditions Apple sets as part of the iTunes purchase agreement violate Norwegian laws and ordered Apple to change the terms by June 21 or face fines. The terms in question include that Apple upholds the right to change the terms of the purchase after the purchase is made and that it claims no responsibility for damage iTunes software may cause to users' computers.

The joint statement that agencies in Norway, Sweden and Denmark expect to release on Thursday asks Apple to make those same changes to its purchase agreement but does not touch on the DRM issue because the three countries aren't in complete agreement on the issue, said Hans Lundin, press secretary for the Swedish Consumer Agency, the government agency that represents consumer interests. He said the three groups plan to develop a common approach to the DRM issue later.

The countries aren't only focused on Apple's policy. The Norwegian council said that it is encouraging the ombudsman to investigate other music stores as well in an effort to change the way that digital music is sold and protected.

The activity isn't limited to some Nordic countries. In a hearing in front of the U.K. House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, the British Phonographic Institute this week said that Apple's dominance of the digital music industry is unhealthy and called on Apple to allow customers to buy music from iTunes and play it on other players.

Earlier this year, France proposed a law that would require Apple to open its DRM so that makers of other players could allow iTunes songs to be played on their devices. The final law that passed softened the potential blow to Apple by allowing companies to keep their DRM technology private.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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