EC tunes out iPod debate

Effect on competition questioned

The European Commission's top antitrust official has indicated that Apple Inc.'s iPod players might escape regulation.

Commission director general for competition Philip Lowe said that he would only intervene in the case if it were clear that the European market was being damaged by incompatibility of iPods with other MP3 players.

"Before we jump in to regulate competition on the market, it is worth asking whether competition is actually harmed," Lowe said during a conference in Munich. "Is there not vigorous competition between different bundles of MP3 players and music libraries?"

Lowe's comments come after European consumer organizations campaigned about iTunes' lack of interoperability with devices other than its own iPod.

Consumer groups in Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland and France recently joined a continent-wide move to get Apple to change its coding restrictions, which they claim are illegal.

More than two years ago, the EC heard its first complaint, from the U.K.'s Office of Fair Trading, over the iTunes pricing policy.

Lowe is the EU's top permanent antitrust civil servant, but he serves under politically appointed EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes. He said a thorough market examination is needed before taking any decision on measures against Apple.