Apple said Wednesday that it had agreed to cut the prices on its iTunes digital-music store in Britain to align them with those on the Continent...
LONDON — Apple said Wednesday that it had agreed to cut the prices on its iTunes digital-music store in Britain to align them with those on the Continent, settling an antitrust case brought by European regulators.
The European Commission accused Apple last spring of unfairly charging British consumers more than their counterparts in the euro zone for tracks from iTunes, the dominant online music vendor. British consumers typically pay 79 pence, or $1.55, a song while iTunes stores in the euro zone charge 99 euro cents, or $1.46.
“In the U.K., we were being discriminated against, and now that is going to stop,” said Chris Warner, a lawyer at Which?, a London-based consumer group that brought the complaint against Apple nearly three years ago.
Apple said that within six months it would lower prices for British consumers to bring them into line with those elsewhere in Europe. But neither the company nor the commission provided details of the settlement.
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One complication in setting prices for British iTunes customers is exchange-rate fluctuations, as Britain has not adopted the euro. The commission’s statement that iTunes prices are 10 percent more expensive in Britain, for example, did not appear to take account of a recent slide in the value of the pound against the euro. At current exchange rates, the 79 pence price of a song in Britain is equal to about 1.06 euros.
Apple has restricted consumers in one European country from buying music from an iTunes site in another country by checking credit-card details; British consumers, for example, must have a card issued by a bank in Britain, to a British address.
Groups like Which? have been calling for Apple to drop those restrictions, allowing consumers to buy from any iTunes site — thereby ending the price differential and allowing music fans access to tracks that might not be available in their country of residence.
Apple has argued that such a solution was impossible because of copyright agreements with music companies and royalty-collection societies, which are typically arranged country by country. Apple also says it is charged more by the record companies at a wholesale level in Britain.
The commission apparently agreed that music-licensing agreements had complicated matters for Apple.
“The commission is very much in favor of solutions which would allow consumers to buy off the iTunes online store without restrictions, but it is aware that some record companies, publishers and collecting societies still apply licensing practices which can make it difficult for iTunes to operate stores accessible for a European consumer anywhere in the EU,” the commission said in a statement.
But Warner said the six-month timetable for Apple to put a solution in place suggested that the company might try to renegotiate the licensing agreements in order to create a single, pan-European version of iTunes.
Apple suggested that this might be a desirable result of the settlement.
“This is an important step towards a pan-European marketplace for music,” Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, said in a statement.