Hey Steve! You're not done yet!

by Jeremiah Foster

His Steveness spun his usual magic yesterday supplying substance where there only was talk. Along with EMI, as everyone by now knows, Apple will be selling DRM-free music. Yay! Well done Apple. But we still have some problems, namely that ridiculous artificial anachronism known as a 'country' or in modern wonk speak "alleged territorial restrictions."

This is a particular bone of contention amongst those of us who live in the tiny principality of Sweden in 'old Europe.' It works like this;

1. Buy music from iTunes
2. Move away from home and lose your music

This is because Apple somehow just lay down and played dead when the record companies forced them to create artificial territories for payment and copyright. The record companies said you have to sell only Spanish music to Spaniards, Greek music to Greeks, etc. So when I bought some of the finest American music around and then moved to Sweden, my music was no longer authorized and cannot be played. That's right, they took my music back after I paid for it.

iTunes removes authorization to play a particular song if your address changes. When I moved, I wanted to continue to receive my credit card bills, much as it pained me, but that de-authorized my account in Apple's eyes. I now had to re-authorize my purchases with the Swedish store. But there are huge holes in their catalog and a large portion of the American music I bought cannot be purchased at the Swedish iTunes. The music I bought shows up in iTunes, but I cannot play it because the authorization dialog never actually authorizes, just endlessly asks me to re-authorize.

What a bizarre Kafkaesque layer of needless bureaucracy! Why are they hobbling sales of their own product? Do they think that Europeans won't like American music? Have they heard of this thing called the Internet? It allows you to sell anything to anyone (see eBay). Is it any wonder that the EU commission is sending a letter of objection on behalf of its citizens saying that Apple and the record companies currently "violate the EC Treaty's rules prohibiting restrictive business practices."

Steve, fix this! I thought your forcefield would make the record execs kneel at your feet, but apparently they managed to convince you to hobble iTunes needlessly.

PS - I'll expect another blog posting from you on this ASAP.


2007-04-03 03:48:02
That's definitely illegal. Write to Apple Sweden, and if they don't give you back your purchased music, threaten to sue them. You would definitely win.
Jérôme Lang
2007-04-03 03:49:54
Yeah sounds like a cool feature...imagine you bought your CDs in the US and after moving to beautiful Sweden they aren't anymore in your packing cases. Sounds weird.
2007-04-03 04:29:10
Some days ago I posted a "message for Steve Jobs" because from Europe I can't buy movies, music, audiobooks from America. Why I will need an Apple TV without movies?
jeremiah foster
2007-04-03 04:31:31
@Carles: Good point.

@Helge: As you may know, litigation here in Sweden is different than in the States so it is not really worth pursuing legally. Besides, I prefer to blog about it so that it gets fixed (hopefully) for everyone.

Peter Erwin
2007-04-03 04:34:00
I doubt it's "definitely illegal" in any simple sense; the Terms of Use or Terms of Sale probably spells this out, and that's presumably part of the contract you entered into when you purchased the songs. The same thing happens, in effect, with physical DVDs if you move from one "Region" (e.g., the US) to another (e.g., Europe) -- they no longer "work" in local players. It's a bigger problem than just iTunes.

A workaround, if your credit card company allows this, is to change your address back to a US address (say, that of a friend or relative) and switch to email-only reminders, so no physical bill gets mailed. A credit card company which allows this (and many of them are -- it saves them the bother of printing and mailing bills) would have a website where you can view and print out your current bill. This is how I can play all my US-iTunes music while living in Germany. (The only drawback is that new credit cards get mailed to that address; but that's a problem you only have to deal with every few years.)

(This also lets you continue to purchase things at sites that only accept credit cards with US addresses, as e.g. expedia.com did until recently for airline tickets, and still does for some other things.)

2007-04-03 04:40:45
Yeah or imagine if you bought a DVD in America and then weren't able to watch it anymore when you moved to Europe . . . oh wait, that does happen. Region encoding on DVDs is basically the same thing as country specific iTunes stores. Not that I'm saying it is right, but that there is precedent for it, and probably Apple doesn't have a lot of control over the situation. I agree that both are totally baseless practices with no aim other than to screw the consumer for questionable benefit for the media companies, but they still do it and get away with it.
2007-04-03 05:07:05
" the EU commission is sending a letter of objection on behalf of its citizens"

EU's citizens? Speak for yourself, mate. I know all about the EU's ambitions, but I'm a *British* citizen. Moreover, the EU has ripped off my compatriots to an extent that the record labels (or Apple if you really must blame it on them) could not even dream off: it's running at nearly £100,000 per minute now.

"I thought [Mr. Jobs's] forcefield would make the record execs kneel at [his] feet".

So you're sneering at him for not having extra-sensory powers. Good grief, how much more extreme in your wish to write something poisonous about Apple could you get? Even Rob Enderle's not gone so far. At least Jobs has persuaded EMI that selling music downloads without DRM is in their best interests. And there are still CDs, if you don't like downloads.

2007-04-03 06:02:03
I don't know if Apple is to blame but I hope that the territorial locks will disapear. I'm from the EU living in the United States and I cannot buy any song from my home country because they are not sold in the US catalogue. On top of that I don't have a credit card in France anymore! Hence I don't have access to the French catalogue at all. My only way to get good music is to show up in a real store with real (and often helpful) people... No seriously, The ITunes store would be a much greater tool if it allowed diversity regardless of borders.
2007-04-03 07:36:48
To add to Peter's post. You don't even need the credit card. You can fund your account with iTunes certificates bought on eBay. This works out slightly more expensive, but may be worth the hassle.
2007-04-03 08:14:12
Wow. A case of "Having a bad day? Kick the dog. He's closest."

It was widely recognized when the iTunes stores were launching that DRM was forced down Apple's throat in order to get the labels to release any music at all. (In fact, Apple was widely lauded for doing as unobtrusive a DRM job as they did.) Two years later, according to many, DRM was all Apple's doing from the start. (I don't necessarily believe they should get all of the credit for it's removal, but they voluntarily provided a great deal of the leverage that made it go away.)

Now it's Apple's fault that music bought in regional iTunes stores aren't automatically recognized by other regions. Yet it's common knowledge that Apple had to negotiate with the labels independently for the rights to sell the very same tunes in each new localized store they launched, and that the terms they were offered were unappealing at best. That's why some countries still don't have a localized iTunes Store. Simply put: When the system was built, Apple didn't have the leverage they have now. Music companies controlled the music, Apple had to deal with that. You want it from the horse's mouth?

"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," the company said.


That jives perfectly with every press releases I've read for many years. And as a developer, it sure does make a lot of sense. Apple's not perfect, but they've been pretty clear about their intentions for the iTunes store from the moment they created it. Put the blame on the labels, where it belongs. Hopefully, Apple's leverage can fix this problem too.

A guy
2007-04-03 08:18:29
One step at a time. Perhaps the EU ombudsman will be the white knight you are seeking, but it's going to take the firm resolve of the EU to outlaw these antiquated agreements for regional rights. In the meantime, why don't you just use your parents' address for you CC statements and handle everything online?

Thanks for brining up this issue, though!

2007-04-03 08:35:49
If you hate Apple so much and continually have nothing good to say about them in post after post then why do you write for MDC? Shouldn't you be over on a Windows blog or something?
2007-04-03 09:05:12
Since you can play music from up to 5 accounts on an iPod or within iTunes, I'd have kept your US account and opened a fresh Swedish account. You'd have the old history complete with still being able to download US free singles - and your new account for your Swedish stuff. And both sets of music.

Stick a little credit in the old account and you'll be able to wipe your credit card details from the US account

2007-04-03 09:31:53
I don't think you're encountering a feature of the music store, I think it is a bug. Have you tried contacting Apple and discussing this with them?
jeremiah foster
2007-04-03 09:40:58
@ThomasW: I did actually, a while ago though. Apple Sweden seemed uninterested in the situation and said that they had contractual obligations not to sell certain items from the American store. The decision seems so arbitrary to me since certain artists are represented but not their entire body of work, so if you are looking for a favorite CD from Wilco for example, say Summerteeth, its not there in Sweden, but it is in the US. AM, an earlier record by Wilco is there in Sweden and in the US. So why? Why some records and not others? Are they uploading them all to separate servers? What's the deal.

@Peter and @Applespider: Thanks for the tips, I am definitely going to follow through and try to recover my lost tunes that way.

2007-04-03 09:44:11
The problem is that the music companies are not going to budge on this one at all. It took YEARS for Apple to negotiate a deal for the Japan iTunes store, because of the greedy bastards controlling music labels. And we still pay outrageous prices for music content.

BTW, you won't automatically lose you music collection if you move to another country. If you maintain a credit card with an address in your home country for iTunes - you should keep your access to your account. That's how us the US iTunes in Japan. However, I purchase VERY little music from the iTunes store, preferring to get most of my content from CDs or free sources.

Andy Lee
2007-04-03 13:20:39
iTunes removes authorization to play a particular song if your address changes.

Does this include changes within the US, or only across the "alleged territorial borders"? I'm guessing the latter, since there would have been a lot more outraged people.

jeremiah foster
2007-04-03 13:22:28
@ Andy Lee: Heh. Yep, I should have been clearer and stated that international travel is required.
2007-04-03 17:54:49
i call BS on this.. I've bought a ton of music from the US store, and am now residing in Japan where I have bought a lot of music from the JP store. Everything works fine for me!
2007-04-03 19:10:08
This is the most valuable information I have read today on the new EU action (the timing of which is extremely suspicious) against Apple. I knew that the prices differed somewhat between the countries and that some selections were not available everywhere, and my reaction was, "Big deal. Welcome to the Planet Earth." I have never known an industry where this was not the case so: it *sounded* like essentially legal harassment.

If you lose access to your already purchased music when you cross the border, then that is a whole new ballgame. But is this really the focus of the EU complaint? They didn't specifically point to this, and I would think that if they had it in mind, they would have definitely mentioned it to avoid sounding like ungrateful spoiled little bureaucrats.

2007-04-03 20:23:04
Wow, I had now idea that would happen. I've hated the silo'd music stores just because I want to listen to foreign music-- I'd love to hear what's hot in Sweden for example. I thought they just prevented purchase-- I didn't realize it blocked reauthorization based on country as well... Oy!
2007-04-03 22:53:53
this article is totally misleading and not researched, in my opinion.

mr foster claims that his experience is by design, which i seriously doubt as my situation is identical and i have not witnessed ANY of his claims. i initially established an account in the states with a US credit card, and bought quite a lot of music. i then moved to japan, cancelled the credit card used for my us account but still use the account itself. here in japan, i have a different credit card, different itunes account, and am enjoying music on the same machine, same itunes install, same ipod, without error.

bogus journalism, plain and simple.

2007-04-03 23:30:46
See, this is why all that anti-piracy crap is so hard to swallow. If content distributors don't care about us enough to have dumb, annoying restrictions like this, why should we care about downloading a couple of free songs from someone on the internet?

> "I know all about the EU's ambitions, but I'm a *British* citizen."

I think (it's been some years since I was properly familiar with all this) you're actually a *subject* of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, *and* an EU citizen. You became an EU citizen when we joined the then EEC in the 70s (after a referendum saying we should), and our law has been secondary to European law since then.

The Treaty itself says, and has always said, "an ever closer union" right there in its preamble. If you don't like it, then I guess your options are UKIP or emigration :)

2007-04-04 02:43:57
u can have accounts in X different eu countries. it works fine and all music is authorized (4 different authorizations) no problem. but it is a work around for not having an eu wide itune (especially annoying is the difference in catalogs as u note). so although its a pain to have it like this it does work as long as u have an address and a bank account in different countries...which is not that difficult
jeremiah foster
2007-04-04 02:48:59
More recent updates to this post here: http://www.oreillynet.com/mac/blog/2007/04/time_to_eat_some_crow.html
Dolphin from India
2007-06-09 04:59:51
I´m german, living in India and want to buy movies in the US iTunes store. Guess what happens ? I want to spend hundreds of Dollars and iTunes doesn´t let me due to my german or indian credit cards. I want to be legal, but the DRM by the industry makes it a pain. I have now two apples (ibook and MacBook) to live with the movie and music right managment (if you can call it that way). The enterntainment industry cries like babies on how bad their business is going due to piracy acts. I have a business degree folks, if I would be a shareholder of your companies I would kick you out of your jobs for proven stupidity and incompetence. I have no mercy with those entertainment folks, if you don´t understand business, you step aside and let people do the job, who can make it better. Instead of making money with me, your losing it !!