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Apple DRM is illegal in Norway, says Ombudsman

Apple's digital rights management lock on its iPod device and iTunes software is illegal, the Consumer Ombudsman in Norway has ruled. The blow follows the news that consumer groups in Germany and France are joining Norway's action against Apple.24 Jan 2007

The Norwegian Consumer Council, Forbrukerradet, lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman on behalf of Norwegian consumers claiming that the Fairplay DRM system acted against the interests of consumers. It said that the fact that the technology stopped songs bought from iTunes being played on any player other than an iPod broke the law in Norway.

The Ombudsman has now agreed, according to Torgeir Waterhouse, senior advisor at the Consumer Council.

"It doesn't get any clearer than this. Fairplay is an illegal lock-in technology whose main purpose is to lock the consumers to the total package provided by Apple by blocking interoperability," Waterhouse told OUT-LAW.COM. "For all practical purposes this means that iTunes Music Store is trying to kill off one the most important building blocks in a well functioning digital society, interoperability, in order to boost its own profits."

Waterhouse said that the Ombudsman has written to Apple to say that it believes that Apple's Fairplay system is illegal. "iTunes Music Store must remove its illegal lock-in technology or appear in court," he said. "As of right now we're heading for a big breakthrough that will hopefully pave the way for consumers everywhere to regain control of music they legally purchase."

The Consumer Council believes that Apple has only three options: it can license Fairplay to any manufacturer that wants iTunes songs to play on its machines; it can co-develop an open standard with other companies; or it can abandon DRM altogether.

The Ombudsman has also backed the Consumer Council's claim that the DRM technology is not simply a copy protection scheme. The Council had argued that in restricting consumers' use of music so heavily the technology broke contract law in Norway.

"The Ombudsman has confirmed our claim that the DRM must be considered part of the contract terms and not a copy protection scheme only," said Waterhouse. "This means that under the Norwegian Marketing Control Act the DRM must provide balanced and fair rights to the consumer when they purchase music form iTunes Music Store and similar download services."

"Apple is aware of the concerns we've heard from several agencies in Europe and we're looking forward to resolving these issues as quickly as possible,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told AP news agency earlier this week. “Apple hopes that European governments will encourage a competitive environment that lets innovation thrive, protects intellectual property and allows consumers to decide which products are successful.”