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Friday, April 6, 2007

the end to expensive import albums?

As most rockers have probably noticed, great albums are often released overseas months or years before they are available here. (reference countries are intentionally left vague. where's here? who's there? i dunno!)

Say, for example, you read a dazzling album review on the current "it" music blog. The record comes from Sweden, and it's nearly impossible to get your hands on. Record companies don't like to have one time, pan-universe, album releases. This practically makes sense, especially for indie-albums. Release the album in one country, see how it goes, then spend the money to make a push in the next country.

While this is all well and good, it has never been satisfactorily explained to me why you can't go online and buy the album from iTunes. You adjust the little country setting at the bottom of the homepage, input a phony credit card billing address that says you live in Göteborg, and try (and fail) to download the song. Then get busted for attempted fraud. So, most likely, you just illegally download the song. Now you're imprisoned for fraud AND the RIAA is your cellmate.

I hope the length of this narrative adequately expresses the depths of my outrage. Apparently, Apple is just as puzzled by the whole situation. On Tuesday, the European Commission slapped Apple (iTunes music store more specifically) and the Major Labels with an anti-trust suit.

The suit didn't address DRM. Instead, the point of contention is the price iTunes charges for downloads in each country. In London, it costs 99p ($1.56) to download "My Humps" while on the continent it costs a mere €0.99 ($1.32) to jam out to Fergie. The European Union has laws against territorial restrictions like this, bad music should cost the same in France as it does in England.

An Apple spokesperson responded by saying; "Apple has always wanted to operate a single, pan-European iTunes store, accessible by anyone from any member state, but we were advised by the music labels and publishers that there were certain legal limits to the rights they could grant us. We don't believe Apple did anything to violate EU law. We will continue to work with the EU to resolve this matter."

I had the grand scheme of figuring out exactly what these legal limits were, and maybe i will, but not today. So this suit MIGHT signal the beginning of the end for territorial releases. Majors will respond to the lawsuit by releasing albums across all of Europe simultaneously, then throw in the US for good measure.

Actually, they'll probably just figure out a way to make the price consistent. Or settle. But that's far less exciting.

Via Billboard.

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