Trouble for Apple's iTunes in Norway
By Steve Ragan Jan 29, 2007, 11:37 GMT
April fools day is too far off for this to be a prank. Norway really did declare Apple’s popular music store and is product illegal. In what many including major news services are calling the strangest, if not the most ridiculous, move ever against a company. Norway’s consumer ombudsman ruled iTunes illegal because the files downloaded from it cannot be played on rival music players.
Let that sink in and think of this. The deadline, October 1, 2007, was set for Apple to have source and other related code available to other technology companies. Failure to do so will result in them being taken to court with the threat of operations being shutdown in the country. Now while that seems harsh, add to the fact that Germany, Sweden, France, and Finland, are also backing the Norwegians. If the other countries follow suit, and deny Apple the right to do business in their countries, that is a potential loss of hundreds of millions of consumers.
"They must make iTunes music compatible with other players than the iPod by the end of September, or we will take them to court," the ombudsman, Bjoern Erik Thon, told Reuters.
Once in court, Apple could face several different repercussions. What is likely to happen is Apple will be fined for each song downloaded, until they comply with the ombudsman complaint. Apple’s Fairplay technology means that songs downloaded form the number one online music source can only be played on the iTunes player or the Apple iPod. Consider that Apple owns the Fairplay code and it is proprietary to them alone, and that their format is unique to the point the files are not even MP3’s they are M4P AAC files that are protected with the Fairplay DRM.
According to the complaints, this is illegal according to Norwegian law. Apple has not made a public comment on this issue, and does not appear to be in a hurry to do so. Why should they? This is almost a classic case of extortion. It would almost be better if they are fined and for them to count it as a separate business fee, and continue to operate as normal.
Many will argue and agree with the European countries. While the method is unique, Norway makes a point many will echo. If you bought it, then it should be yours to do with as you please. That may well be the case, but you also as a consumer have a right not to buy from a vendor who does not allow your ‘freedom of choice.’
That is the simple fact of most DRM providers. They forget that the consumer can and often will find a way to remove the protection, which is illegal, or they simply will shop somewhere else. No one said Apple iTunes was fair or right, but Apple’s policy, and the technology used is well known. Apple has never once attempted to hide the fact that their music only plays on their platforms. Why all of the sudden are so many starting to complain and why is a large consumer rights group threatening to sue?
Money, which is the simple answer and likely the case, because Fairplay blocks other companies from using the M4P AAC files iTunes offers. No one buys those companies products. In the interest of business, that is a fair assessment. It cuts others out of the market and no one can compete. However, unlike most cases where a company cuts out its competition, Apple is a unique brand. There are hundreds of places online to shop and download music. That music will play on any portable player, including the iPod. Apple just has more brand recognition, and more money for marketing.
As the consumer, and the ombudsman as a consumer rights group knows this, it is your choice on where, when and how you spend your money. If Apple and the Fairplay technology strip you of your rights, then do not buy from them. If your product cannot play M4P AAC files, then switch gears and market to the consumers who do not want M4P AAC files, and who want a choice as to what to do with their music. Attempting to force a company, as large as Apple, to meeting your demands will likely fail.
This story and Apple’s response will be interesting, and should make for good conversations around the office water cooler.