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Fri, Jun 16, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Apple under more pressure over iTunes

COMPETITION Norway, Sweden and Denmark have notified the company that they believe it is violating copyright laws by restricting its online music store's downloads

AP , SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA

More European countries are pressuring Apple Computer Inc to open its iTunes Music Store so purchased songs could be played on any portable music player and not just the iPod.

Consumer agencies in Norway, Sweden and Denmark last week sent a joint letter to Apple, saying the iPod maker is violating their contract and copyright laws with its product usage restrictions.

The regulators have extended their deadline from June 21 to Aug. 1 for the company to respond, according to Apple.

The agencies could take Apple to court if they're not satisfied with the answer.

The agencies could seek injunctions against Apple, banning iTunes from their markets.

However, the agencies are "hoping to establish a joint and constructive dialogue to rectify the situation," the Norwegian consumer ombudsman said.

The agencies contend that Apple's system of making its market-leading iPod players the only compatible portable player for iTunes downloads is illegal and tramples consumers' rights.

"Consumers must be free to choose the equipment and software they want to use. Access to content should not be limited by accidental choices of technology," Torgeir Waterhouse, a senior adviser on the Norwegian Consumer Council, wrote in a complaint that was upheld last week by the Norwegian consumer ombudsman.

The Scandinavian troubles for iTunes come as the French parliament is poised to vote soon on legislation that could force all electronic gadgets to be "interoperable."

A French National Assembly proposal would force Apple, Sony Corp and others to share their copy-protection technologies so that competitors could offer music players and online stores that are compatible with theirs.

The Senate has proposed a less restrictive bill that would let Apple maintain its exclusive link between the iPod and iTunes if it gets the authorization from copyright holders to do so.

The ombudsmen from the three Scandinavian countries contend the terms of Apple's contract with iTunes users are "unreasonable."

Besides the iPod-iTunes closed system, the agencies are critical of how the iTunes contract says Apple has the right to make changes -- without warning -- to how its service is used. The agencies are also taking issue at how Apple fully waives itself of responsibility for damages related to its service.

"The consumers are clearly the inferior partner in the contract, and this in itself is illegal," Norwegian Ombudsman Bjorn Erik Thon said.

"We have received the letter from the Norwegian Consumer Council. We are looking into it, and we are looking forward to resolving this matter," Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said on Tuesday. She declined further comment.

Legal experts say such liability waiver terms are commonly used by many software and electronics companies in the US, but Apple's market dominance in the online music market has made it a high-profile target.

PATENT DISPUTE

Separately, portable media player maker Creative Technology Ltd said the US International Trade Commission agreed to investigate whether Apple's rival iPod infringes on one of its patents.

Singapore-based Creative filed the ITC complaint and a federal lawsuit alleging that iPods infringed on its patent for a navigation system used to organize and access music on portable players.

Creative dubbed the patent, the "Zen patent," after its brand-name Zen media players.

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