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Norway knuckles down for long iTunes fight

Shape up, consumer council tells Apple

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Apple isn't just breaking Norwegian consumer law - it's breaking promises Steve Jobs once made about digital music, the country's consumer watchdog says.

Torgeir Waterhouse, senior advisor to the Norwegian Consumer Council, chivvied the private sector for its myopic approach to digital music.

"The digitalisation of culture and other consumer products is simply too important to be dictated by the industry," he told The Register.

In June, the country's consumer ombudsman, whose decisions are legally binding, ruled that the digital rights management scheme used in Apple's iTunes Music Store was breaking section 9a of the Norwegian Marketing Control Act. The ombudsman also ruled that aspects of Apple's terms and conditions were also illegal, and pointed out that it attempted to put Norwegians under an English legal contract.

The ombudsman asked Apple to respond by 31 July, but now it has, it falls short in crucial areas.

Waterhouse told us that while some progress had been made, Apple's response fell short on the crucial area of DRM.

"They do not even try to come close to lift the lock-in between iTunes Music Store and the iPod.

"It seems clear to us that iTunes intend to continue their unfair practice of using the DRM as lock-in technology under the cover being [a] copy-protection only scheme."

And he's been through the press clippings.

"The position they're signaling now is the direct opposite of the consumer-friendly attitude Steve Jobs put forward in 2002, when he told MacWorld that "if you legally acquire music, you need to have the right to manage it on all other devices that you own".

That was only a few months after the iPod was launched - when it still looked like an expensive flop - and a year before Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in the US.

Waterhouse also noted the rise of eMusic, which sells songs without DRM, to number two spot in the market. eMusic, which is owned by the same company that owns digital music wholesaler The Orchard, must source its inventory from independents, as the major labels refuse to deliver digital music without DRM.

There has been progress on altering the terms of service, he notes. Apple has promised not to implement changes to the terms of service retrospectively to music a consumer had already purchased, will make changes more visible, and has acknowledged the jurisdiction of Norwegian law.

Waterhouse expressed his desire that all digital download ventures focus on "a joint responsibility for creating a well functioning digital society".

The Norwegian Consumer Council wants further progress on the terms of service and says it doesn't expect the DRM issue to be resolved soon.

"Obviously there'll be a lot of work on the DRM issue which clearly is the area where iTunes Music Store is most reluctant to offer the consumers a fair deal." ®

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