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Europe probes 'rip off' Apple iTunes pricing

Songs more expensive in UK than France, Germany etc.

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The European Commission (EC) has confirmed it is looking into allegations that Apple's iTunes Music Store discriminates against UK consumers by charging them more to download the same song than it charges other European music buyers.

Some British iTunes users have slammed the differential pricing as yet another example of "rip-off Britain".

Apple's pricing policy was brought to the EC's attention in December 2004 by the UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which was itself made aware of the situation by British consumer group Which?

In the UK, the iTunes Music Store charges customers 79p (€1.14) to download a single track. The same song costs €0.99 when it's downloaded from Apple's other European music shops.

Apple can, of course, charge what it likes, and while UK consumers might be annoyed at the price differential, there's little they can do but complain about it. Or go and buy songs from, say, ITMS' French outlet. However, Apple doesn't permit them to do so.

That's the real issue: is Apple's refusal to allow cross-border shopping in contravention of European Union laws enacted to ensure the free movement of goods and services between member states.

Apple argues that since each country has its own music licensing regime, it's forced to adopt different prices for each nation in which it sells music. Potentially, diluting that argument is its own cross-border store, which takes in customers from the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and other territories. If it can smooth pricing across these countries, why not across the EU as a whole?

The EC itself last year called on Europe's music licensing agencies to develop a common framework and pricing structure - or risk having one imposed upon it. Certainly, the EC fears that the various licensing regimes are themselves in violation of EU law.

Whether that will let Apple off the hook remains to be seen. A verdict one way or t'other seems unlikely in the near term - the investigation was described as being in its "early stages", according to an EC spokesman cited by Associated Press. ®

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