Wednesday, September 13, 2006

EU considers peeling -- maybe coring -- Apple's iTunes

Not only do European governments take the privacy of their citizens and their personal data (Schneier, p. 3) seriously across board (the U.S. does in a few sensitive industries), they're actually the keepers of the gate protecting competition among technology firms. Now, you'd think the free-market-loving, wheeling-and-dealing capitalists in this country would want to do all they could to keep our economy marching along and our markets teeming with new technology entrants and their products, but no. Our Justice Department antitrust chief, Thomas Barnett, warned the EU countries that "impos[ing] restrictions on iTunes...could discourage innovation and hurt consumers." What are these frightening restrictions, you might ask? One example: "requir[ing] Apple to permit iTunes music to play on devices other than its iPod." Apple, Barnett argued "should be applauded for creating a legal, profitable and easy-to-use system for downloading music and other entertainment via the Internet."

Yes, sure, applaud Apple's big business model for helping other big businesses protect their big business models. Yay, them. But since when is a lack of competition the thing that encourages innovation? Our whole economic system depends on the little guys sketching out the better mousetrap on the back of a cocktail napkin, making aftermarket parts for good mousetraps that consumers like to buy and thinking of products that will replace the mousetrap once all the mice are dead. Telling people the rodent problem's been solved so go work on something else while Ben runs up your pantleg is just plain un-American.

As anyone who's ever worked at a company that uses computer technology at all knows, legacy systems can become impossibly expensive to extricate yourself from. I'm not just talking money. The time it takes to move data between two incompatible systems can be nearly impossible if the first system's been in place for any length of time. (You sit there, practically salivating, thinking about how much more hassle-free your life would be if you could just use the new tools, but you can't because you'd have to spend the rest of your life transferring the data it took you years to accumulate, byte by byte.) Telling entrepreneurs, computer engineers, hackers and designers that thinking about making iTunes better -- or making products that can make iTunes talk to better products or using iTunes in a way not sanctioned by Apple -- is verboten is the most stifling of stifling statements. And now our top antitrust watchdog is spreading our protectionist tripe around the world. Where is my generic extra-strength migraine eraser?

The EU levied in excess of $600 million in fines against Microsoft and forced the company to provide different versions of Windows. South Korea followed suit with smaller fines. If the U.S. won't protect the public's interest in newer, better, faster, cooler or just plain different products, I guess we'll have to look to the rest of the world to lead the way.

1 comment:

Karl said...

Apple provides a service that allows willing users of its service to download music from its iTunes store. That music would not be delivered in such a method if there was not some form of DRM in place. Otherwise, the recording industry would sue the pants off anyone who attempted to do so (and have.)

As part of their business model, Apple allows the downloaded music to be played on an Apple iPod, burned onto a CD, or played on a MAC or PC.

Now, as a consumer, you know this when you visit their online store - because it informs you of such.

So if you willingly accept those terms, and buy music via online channels, and then have the stupidity to complain it doesn't play on your Sony MP3 player - I have no sympathy for you.

You can always buy CD's from the stores, or you can go to competitor online music web sites - which will have similiar policies anyway.

So, how is the consumer being ripped off here? If you want the freedom of where to play your music, burn it onto a CD - or simply buy a CD outright.

This complaining is simply socialist governments looking to restrict American companies success in their markets where their own companies have failed to deliver.