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Group's French digital music biz complains to govt.

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VirginMega - the Virgin Group's French online music joint venture with media company Lagardère - has claimed that Apple is guilty of anti-competitive behaviour by refusing to licence the iTunes Music Store's FairPlay DRM technology.

Apple's opponent has formally asked France's competition watchdog to rule that the iPod maker has abused its dominant market position by not allowing other companies access to FairPlay.

VirginMega uses Windows' audio and DRM technology - it's supplied by OD2/Loudeye - which isn't supported by the iPod. Since Apple won't build WMA compatibility into the iPod, Virgin wants Apple to license FairPlay so it can incorporate the technology into the tracks it sells, making the iPod-compatible.

It approached Apple early in June, ahead of the launch of the three European iTunes Music Stores, with just such a request.

Rebuffed by Apple, the company wants the French government to force Apple to license FairPlay. A hearing to consider VirginMega's demands is expected to be convened in October or November.

Apple is guarding FairPlay jealously, to protect its small but growing ITMS revenues. Last month, it reached an agreement with Motorola which will see it developing a version of iTunes for the bigger company's mobile phones.

It is also considering legal action against Real Networks which, like VirginMega, was apparently refused a FairPlay licence. So Real developed Harmony, a tool with translates its own DRM system into a FairPlay-compatible set of rules.

Virgin is expected to launch a new online music service, Virgin Digital, in the US and UK later this year. Unlike Virgin's other digital music efforts, Digital is powered by MusicNet. ®

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