updated 04:05 pm EST, Thu January 25, 2007
Netherlands pursues Apple
The Netherlands has joined Norway, Sweden, and Finland alongside France and Germany in an effort to hold Apple accountable for locking customers into using its portable media players and iTunes software when purchasing audio tracks via its iTunes Music Store. The Dutch Consumer Ombudsman lodged complaints with the Dutch anti-trust agency as well as ConsumentenAutoriteit -- the newly formed Dutch Consumer Authority -- which will act as the enforcer of 15 European consumer protection directives, according to The Register. The Scandinavian-led effort charges that Apple's iTunes violates Norway's consumer law, and that the company must change its policy by September 30th or face legal ramifications.
Apple issued a statement earlier this week saying that the Cupertino-based company is aware of the concerns from several European agencies, but that it is looking forward to resolving the issues as quickly as possible.
Apple developed and implemented its own form of digital rights management (DRM) that it calls "FairPlay" to protect songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store to prevent piracy, alleviating some of the fears voiced by major record labels prior to the widespread availability of digital music online.
The protection scheme, which limits users' ability to play back tracks to Apple's own iPod players and its iTunes media software, drew widespread criticism in France last year when the country drafted a law that would have forced Apple to open its closed standard to competitors. The French law eventually passed after several revisions, and has yet to bear any serious consequences for Apple.
France's recently passed DRM law struck fear into the hearts of Apple lovers and investors alike as it progressed through various stages in both French houses. Rumors and speculation that Apple would close its France iTunes Music Store for good and withdraw from the country rather than opening up its closed standard to competitors coupled with the possibility that any outcome in the French courts could set a standard overseas. Visions of a domino affect likely clouded the minds of industry analysts trying to predict Apple's financial future, but those fears were cast aside when the French law was declared unconstitutional and again revised with more lenient measures.
The iPod-maker currently lays claim to about 50 percent of the Dutch internet download market, but is drawing increased fire from governments and agencies overseas for its closed iPod/iTunes ecosystem. Dutch Consumentenbond spokesman Ewald van Kouwen said his group has filed a formal complaint with the Dutch antitrust watchdog NMa, requesting an investigation into what he called "illegal practices" by the iTunes Music Store, according to the Associated Press.
"What we want from Apple is that they remove the limitations that prevent you from playing a song you download from iTunes on any player other than an iPod," said van Kouwen. "When you buy a music CD it doesn't play only on players made by Panasonic. People who download a song from iTunes shouldn't be bound to an iPod for the rest of their lives."
Apple said in its statement Monday that it hopes "European governments will encourage a competitive environment that lets innovation thrive," leaving out details about how it intends to handle the rising tide of criticism in Europe.