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Apple 'unmovable' on iPod lock-in

Apple has told a Norwegian regulator that it will not change its policy of locking iTunes purchases so that they can only be played on its iPod devices. Consumer activists who have read the company's response to a case against describe it as 'unmovable'.03 Aug 2006

The Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman could rule the iTunes software illegal in Norway in a case whose result is likely to be followed in Sweden and Denmark. Apple had until 21st June to respond to the Ombudsman's move but asked for a new deadline of 1st August, which it met.

In its submission, which is in Norwegian, Apple says that its digital rights management (DRM) systems are governed by copyright legislation and not consumer protection legislation, and is therefore "outside the Council's area of competence", according to Forbrukerradet, the Consumer Council of Norway. It was the Consumer Council that first brought the case against Apple.

"Apple seem unmovable," said Torgeir Waterhouse, senior advisor with the Council. "It seems clear to us that iTunes intend to continue their unfair practice of using the DRM as lock-in technology under the cover of being a copy-protection only scheme."

"The position they're signalling now is  the direct opposite of the consumer friendly attitude [Apple chief executive] 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'," Waterhouse told OUT-LAW.

The Ombudsman had ruled on two issues: the locking out of non-Apple devices and the terms and conditions attached to iTunes. The Ombudsman, whose decisions have the status of court rulings, said that the terms of agreement with iTunes were unreasonable with regard to the Norwegian Marketing Control Act. It said that Norwegian, not English, law must govern the agreements and that iTunes cannot disclaim liability for damage done to machines by its software.

On those questions Apple was more prepared to change its practices. "We're pleased with their willingness to alter the terms and conditions in an attempt to make them more understandable for regular consumers," said Waterhouse. "This is of course an obvious move and it remains to see how well this actually turns out in making the terms readable and understandable for regular consumers."

Apple requested that some of its response be kept private, and some of its letter has been blacked out before being published.

"We find that iTunes Music Store so far have only signalled an intent to resolve some of the  issues in the Norwegian Consumer Council's original complaint," said Waterhouse. "This leads to what most probably will be a long struggle ahead of us to balance the terms of the digital marketplace for all involved parties. We're at the beginning of the struggle and still have a long way to go."

Expertise in Copyright

Copyright is an extremely valuable, often unrecognised or misunderstood right which protects a whole range of original materials including written materials, software, artistic materials, music and dramatic works. It arises automatically without the need for registration in most countries and protects these materials from unauthorised copying. It is essential in business to identify such rights, ensure they are owned by the correct entity, properly protected, enforced and exploited.

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