Wednesday, April 11, 2007

iTunes store and country restrictions

Apple has come under attack again recently in the EU regarding restricting the sales of certain content to purchasers connecting from specific countries.

The complaint goes that this is anticompetitive. Apple's response is that they can't sell what they can't get, and their suppliers (the owners of the media IP in question) license specifically by country.

Disclaimer: I'm not a fan of iTunes store. I have never purchased anything from them, and don't plan to do so until my purchase will technically permit what I believe to be my fair-use rights: to copy and enjoy my licensed content on my various players and devices.

That said, I'm siding with Apple on this particular issue. Bemoan country restriction all you want, it isn't the fault of the channel. The fault lies with the content owner, in this case, the record labels. For arguably valid financial model reasons, vendors will sometimes charge different amounts for content destined for different markets. To justify the practice they sometimes (but not always) specialize the product to the market, but that doesn't change the basic picture.  DVD vendors do this with region-encoded discs. We can argue that this practice is self-defeating, that it only encourages illegal cross-region copying, and no doubt makes us grow hair on our hands, but the reality is that the owner the IP should be able to choose when and how to license what they own. Just as it is my choice whether to buy from them. Or, as it says in a restaurant near my home:

We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. 

EU regulators can take the record labels to task on this one as they will if they want "to open the market so people can shop freely throughout the EU", but they shouldn't harass a store who is stuck with the terms the labels are willing to offer.

Unless of course the complaint is pure harassment.