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Apple’s iTunes DRM, which does not allow consumers to transfer iTunes Music Store purchases to non-Apple music players, has until now come in for limited European criticism, beyond the legislative efforts in France aimed at all music DRM. Norway’s consumer ombudsman in January told Apple to open up the technology to competitors by October or face court action, but the only other teeth bared were from a joint statement from consumer advocacy groups in Germany, France, Norway, Sweden and Finland – all they can do is lobby governments on consumers’ behalf.
Now, though, it looks like Apple should start worrying. According to an advance copy of an article due for publishing in Germany’s Focus magazine today, EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva is quoted as saying: “Do you think it’s fine that a CD plays in all CD players but that an iTunes song only plays in an iPod? I don’t. Something has to change.” Kuneva’s spokesperson followed up with a conciliatory: “I don’t think she was stating it as a definitive policy position. At this stage it is her gut instinct.” Jupiter Research VP and digital music analyst Mark Mulligan suggests such action would be ridiculous. But, as Apple rival Microsoft knows to its cost, the European Commission has form when it comes to consumer rights. Suddenly you can see one more reason for Steve Jobs’ February memo Thoughts On Music – if Apple can pass the DRM buck sufficiently on to the record labels, it may buy itself not only some consumer thumbs-up but also some good grace from European legislators. If not, much may depend on the extent to which Apple complies with the first of the European actions — Norway’s October deadline.