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Thursday, January 25, 2007, 03:50 pm PT (06:50 pm ET)

More Euro countries enter battle over iTunes DRM

France, Germany, and the Netherlands are all teaming up with Norway to pressure Apple into opening its iTunes music format for the sake of compatibility, according to news reports.

Compounding Apple's existing troubles, three of the most influential European nations have now said that they too supported Norway's pursuit of the iPod maker over concerns that its proprietary FairPlay protection scheme was violating antitrust laws.

The stepped-up rhetoric began on Monday, when Norway's lead consumer ombudsman Bjoern Erik Thon imposed a deadline on the Californian company. The industry watchdog took Apple to task for limiting the use of songs bought from the iTunes Store to only its iPod player, demanding that the company broaden compatibility with other devices by October or else face court time and fines.

"It cannot be good for the music industry for them to lock music into one system," he said.

Thon also made the surprise revelation that France and Germany were now involved with forcing Apple's hand in the matter. The former country's UFC-Que Choisir and the latter's Verbraucherzentralen equivalent have quietly backed the attempt to loosen Apple's grip on the iTunes ecosystem, citing the same reasons of fair competition.

This news alone appears to have magnetized the issue and turned it into a popular cause, as the Netherlands' consumer protection agency said on Thursday that it would look into Apple's practices in its own country for the same reasons as its European and Scandinavian forerunners. Agency spokesman Ewald van Kouwen claimed to have been directly "inspired" by Norway's fearlessness and justified the Dutch response through common sense.

"When you buy a music CD it doesn't play only on players made by Panasonic," Kouwen declared. "People who download a song from iTunes shouldn't be bound to an iPod for the rest of their lives."

Apple has so far only begrudgingly acknowledged the mounting cases against it. The Cupertino firm told the Associated Press through its spokesman Tom Neumayr only that it was aware of the problem and that it hoped Europeans would promote a "competitive environment that lets innovation thrive," a not so subtle allusion to its belief that opening FairPlay would hurt iPod sales.

Norway first discussed penalties against Apple in August of last year. Denmark and Sweden have supported the cause since then, but were not joined by supporters outside of the northern territories until the recent announcements.