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Is Sony threatening to pull its music content from iTunes?

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As retaliation for snubbing its non-native e-book app, Sony vaguely suggested it may pull its music content from Apple’s iTunes. In an interview with The Age, Sony exec Michael Ephraim indicates that music publishers want to an iTunes alternative, and that perhaps Sony no longer needs to sell Apple its material.

According to the interview, Sony will expand its music streaming service, Music Unlimited, in the near future, as one of those iTunes alternatives music publishers can turn to. Music Unlimited is currently only available in Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK, Ireland, and France. Its forthcoming mobile gaming service will also give users access to first generation PlayStation games, and most likely won’t be offered to iTunes or iPhone users. He takes a dig at Apple’s closed platform, claiming that Sony PlayStation Suite will bring various early PS games to handheld devices, including the Android-based Samsung Galaxy S and Motorola Defy.

Apple incited a battle with Sony when it initially rejected Sony’s e-reader app since users didn’t purchase books through its own platform. It then amended this, saying that in order to purchase e-books on iOS devices, it requires customers must have the option of buying them through iTunes.

It seems like the debacle has left a bad taste in Sony’s mouth, and it wants to break free of iTunes’ hold on the mobile market. Talking about Music Unlimited, Ephraim says “If we do [get mass take up] then does Sony Music need to provide content to iTunes? Currently we do. We have to provide it to iTunes as that’s the format right now.” And apparently “right now” means for the next few years. He admits that while Apple has cornered this music streaming for the moment, he notes that “publishers are being held ransom by Apple and they are looking for other delivery systems, and we are waiting to see what the next three to five years will hold.”

If Sony were to actually pull its content from iTunes, it’s difficult to say which company would suffer more. ITunes inarguably needs Sony’s content (which includes the likes of Billy Joel, all Glee titles, and MGMT), but it’s safe to assume that Music Unlimited’s subscription plan and lack of mobile integration isn’t going to gain widespread appeal. In short, it’s a little too late to challenge iTunes at its own game.

But restricting access for its PlayStation Suite service seems like fair retribution for the tightening App Store. While we doubt it’s going to cause anyone to ditch their iPhone, it might sway fanboys torn between that and an Android device. Which might be a tiny victory for Sony in this battle, but it’s probably the best it can get.