Groups want break in link between players and service

iTunes stoked the fires for legal downloads of music and TV content. But European regulators may be throwing some cold water on Apple’s proprietary software.

Some $1.1 billion was spent on music online in 2005. Apple dominates the international legal download biz with an market share of 80% in the U.S. and the U.K. and well above 50% in other Euro nations.

But consumer rights protection agencies in Denmark, Norway and Sweden last week ordered Apple to break the exclusive link between its iPod music players and iTunes music-download service. Finland is expected to follow suit.

In France, legislation in its final stages in parliament would require Apple to make iTunes songs compatible with all portable music devices.

Even the Brits have had enough. In the U.K., record industry trade body the BPI has told parliament that Apple should remove its copy protection.

The Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman ruled that iTunes’ terms and conditions are unlawful and gave the service until June 21 to amend them. On June 14, Norway, Denmark and Sweden extended that deadline to Aug. 1 — and threatened to fine Apple if it drags its heels.

Despite the growing rumbles of consumer unease in Europe, Apple is unlikely to make iTunes accessible to other music players. Instead, it would probably pull out of any country that imposes such a restriction.

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