At Apple’s final Macworld Expo in January, the company announced all music for sale via iTunes would be offered in DRM-free, 256 Kbps AAC format, with the company anticipating the store’s entire 10 million song catalog would be available DRM-free by the end of the first quarter of 2009. (Users can now update their DRM-laden tracks a la carte if they like). One upshot of Apple taking iTunes DRM-free is that Norway has decided to drop its long-standing complaints against Apple that the iTunes store violated consumer rights by tying content purchases to Apple software and devices. Now that Apple is taking the music store DRM-free, Norway’s consumer ombudsman Bjørn Erik Thon has decided not to pursue a case against Apple.
Norway’s complaints about the proprietary nature of Apple’s iTunes store have been simmering for over two years, with the country’s consume ombudsman first taking issue with the service back in early 2007, and taking its case to the country’s market council in 2008. The brouhaha over the restrictive nature of iTunes DRM even prompted Apple CEO Steve Jobs to post a highly-unusual public letter saying Apple would abandon DRM “in a heartbeat” if the music industry would let them.
Norway had been setting itself up to be a test case in forcing digital music retailers to enable interoperability between devices and services, so content purchased from one online music store (say, iTunes) would be playable on any portable media player (say, a Zune or a SanDisk Sansa). Although the case was being carefully watched by other countries—including Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark—the Market Council never took decisive action. Now, the music industry seems to have finally acknowledged that DRM significantly hindered consumers’ use of digital music, while doing virtually nothing to curb online piracy.