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The Consumers' Association has accused iTunes - the music download service from Apple - of ripping off UK punters by charging them 20 per cent more than European counterparts.

The consumer watchdog has written to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) asking it to investigate the possible "anti-competitive practice of the music download service, iTunes".

In the UK, iTunes charges punters 79p (120 euro cents) to download one track. In both France and Germany the cost is just 99 euro cents - about 67p.

The Consumers' Association reckons that this is a breach of European law which supposedly ensures that consumers enjoy the same benefits of the single market as other citizens of member states.

"The iTunes service is set up in a way that prevents UK consumers from taking advantage of the cheaper download service offered to the French and Germans - UK consumers need to have a registered address and payment mechanisms in France or Germany to access the service or pay the higher price charged in the UK," said the watchdog.

And its urging the OFT to investigate what it describes as a "potential breach of competition law".

Said Phil Evans of the Consumers' Association: "There appears to be considerable evidence that the iTunes set up is prejudiced against the UK public and distorts the very basis of the single market. If the OFT agrees, it will be another example of the rip-off culture that the British public are often victims of."

In a statement, Apple said: "The underlying economic model in each country has an impact on how we price our track downloads. That's not unusual - look at the price of CDs in the US versus the UK. We believe the real comparison to be made is with the price of other track downloads in the UK. We are extremely proud to launch the iTunes music store in the UK with by far the lowest price for track downloads, just 79p for every track." ®

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