British regulators forward iTunes complaint to EU

Complaint says Apple discriminates against U.K. consumers by charging them more than others in Europe.

British regulators on Friday referred a complaint over iTunes pricing to the European Commission.

In a statement, Britain's Office of Fair Trade said that the Commission was in a better position to address the complaint, which charges that Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store discriminates against British consumers by charging them more than others in Europe and preventing them from accessing the cheaper stores.

"The OFT has decided that the European Commission is better placed to consider this matter, in particular as Apple iTunes operates in more than three EC Member States," the agency said.

The variable cost of music

The typical price of an iTunes track varies considerably, with consumers in Britain paying nearly twice what those in Canada pay.
Price of iTunes song in U.S. dollars:
Canada$0.83
U.S.$0.99
Britain$1.53
Other Europeans$1.33

An Apple representative did not have an immediate comment on the move.

The issue over iTunes pricing returned to the spotlight this week as Apple opened a Canadian store, which offers prices 16 percent cheaper than those charged to customers in the United States.

Apple charges 79 pence ($1.53) per song in the United Kingdom compared with 99 euro cents ($1.33) in its other European stores. Songs in the United States cost 99 cents, while in Canada they cost 99 Canadian cents (83 cents U.S.).

Apple executive Eddy Cue noted Thursday that the market for music prices are different in various countries, as are the taxes and the amount Apple must pay for the music. "The costs do vary by region for Apple," Cue said.

Which, the British consumer organization that brought the complaint last September, praised the decision by Britain's trade regulators.

"U.K. consumers are getting a raw deal from Apple," Phil Evans, Which principal policy adviser, said in a statement. The group said Apple's pricing means that U.K. customers pay 20 percent more than those in France and Germany, for example.

The group argued that online music should be part of Europe's overall common market.

"The online music market is a huge growth area," Evans said. "The Single Market should work the same in this market as in others. We're campaigning for free movement of goods and services in Europe, and we'll take on any company, or group of companies, that seek to carve up the market to their benefit."

Nick Pergoot, an IT consultant and iTunes customer from Brussels, said it seems reasonable to him that Britons pay a different price, given their decision not to take part in the single euro currency.

"As a consequence, absolutely everything is much more expensive in the U.K. (than) for the rest of Europe," Pergoot said in an e-mail.

At the same time, he said, it is unfortunate that customers in separate countries have access to different music, something he hopes might improve as a result of an EC inquiry.

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