- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

AMSTERDAM (AP) — The Dutch consumer protection agency became the latest in Europe today to pressure Apple Inc. into changing restrictions that tie songs bought on ITunes to its market-leading IPod players.

Consumentenbond spokesman Ewald van Kouwen said his group had filed a formal complaint with the Dutch antitrust watchdog NMa (Netherlands Competition Authority) asking for an investigation into what he called “illegal practices” by Apple’s ITunes online store.

“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,” Mr. van Kouwen said. “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.”

The Dutch complaints follow similar ones from consumer-rights groups in Germany, France and the Nordic countries.

Currently, songs bought on ITunes are designed to play on IPods and not rivals such as those using Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Media system. Furthermore, IPods can’t play copy-protected music from other stores, including Napster Inc. and Sony Corp.’s Connect.

Apple has said it was aware of the concerns. On Monday, Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said the company hoped “European governments will encourage a competitive environment that lets innovation thrive.” The company declined further comment today.

Mr. van Kouwen said his group was “inspired” by Norway’s consumer ombudsman, who on Monday gave the company a Sept. 30 deadline to change its rules or face legal action.

Simmering European discontent with Apple’s rules boiled over originally in June, when consumer agencies in Norway, Denmark and Sweden said Apple’s practices violated contract and copyright laws. French consumer lobby Union Federale des Consommateurs-Que Choisir and its German counterpart Verbraucherzentrale joined the effort late last year, with Finland’s Kuluttajavirasto.

In August, France passed a law that gave regulators power to force Apple to license its software or hardware to rivals so they can make compatible music players and stores.

Early drafts of the law would have ordered the outright removal of copy-protection software, which prevents song files from playing on devices using rival copy-protection systems. Apple complained the law was tantamount to “state-sponsored piracy.” But in its final form it has not led to any significant change in Apple’s practices in France.

Mr. van Kouwen said it will take months for the NMa watchdog to investigate the complaint.

He said the Consumentenbond also would oppose Microsoft Corp.’s use of copy-protection software on music for its new Zune player “or Sony or any company that does so.”

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