Apple, Record Labels To Defend EC iTunes Antitrust Charges This Month

Later this month, representatives of Apple, Universal Music, SonyBMG and EMI will attempt to convince the European Commission that iTunes Store has not broken continental competition rules. The commission in April sent the companies, along with Warner Music Group, a statement of objection, complaining that customers can buy songs from their own country’s iTunes Store but not others (availability is set by the location of the buyer’s credit card).

A competition spokesperson at the commission told four of the accused had requested an oral hearing, which has been set for Sept. 19 and 20. An officer at the closed hearing will then send a summary to competition commissioner Neelie Kroes, who will then decide between dropping the action, agreeing on a compromise or finding against the companies, resulting in fines of up to 10 percent of global turnover. Billboard: “Apple will be in the hearing for the duration. Because each of the record companies signed a different contract with Apple, and on confidential terms, no two record firms will be present at the same time.”

The commission contends the current iTunes Store setup breaks article 18 of the EC Treaty covering restrictive business practices, arguing customers are losing out on both choice and price. Rules state customers should be able to buy from anywhere in the 27-member economic bloc. iTunes prices also vary widely – standard tracks cost £0.79 in the UK, but British customers are barred from paying the EUR 0.99 (£0.67) those in the Eurozone do (both are considerably pricier than the $0.99, or £0.49, Americans are charged). The EC has previously heard complaints iTunes Store tracks can only be played on iPods.

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