Investigated For Online Music Price Collusion by Justice Department -
Compare Apple iTunes With Wal-Mart Licensing Agreements
March 5th 2006
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The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking into whether
the major music companies “colluded” in setting wholesale prices for
digital Music downloads. This comes on the tail of Apple’s sale of
their 1 billionth song off of their iTunes Website.
The DOJ investigation follows a similar investigation by the New York
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. In a recent Fox News reports by Tim
Arango, this could have stemmed from a “very public spat between the
music industry and Apple chief Steve Jobs over pricing on the iTunes
service, which charges 99 cents per track.”
Since December, Spitzer has widened his probe, formally asking for
information from several online music services. According to a WWMT CBS
News report, two record company officials say the investigation seems to
be focusing on whether the labels are in cahoots when it comes to
setting prices for tunes.
Greg Sampson in the Jurist, reports that although the Justice Department
has not yet released an official announcement of the probe, they have
already issued subpoenas to four major record labels: EMI, Sony BMG,
Universal and Warner Music. According to Sampson, the investigation is
attempting to discern whether the labels are conspiring to keep the
wholesale price of downloadable music artificially high.
Not all of the retailers sell the music for the same price or even offer
the same licenses for their use. For instance, Wal-Mart offers their
songs for just 88 cents each. According to the Wal-Mart website you are
licensed to burn a song to a CD 10 times. If you try to burn a CD after
that, Windows Media® Player 9 will deliver a message indicating that you
are not licensed to make any more burns to a CD.
Buying music from Apple iTunes is slightly more expensive. Apple
charges 99 cents per download, but you can burn the songs to CD / DVD as
many times as you like. From the Apple website: Unlike some
applications that limit the number of CDs you can burn, iTunes lets you
burn as many custom CDs as you like. And iTunes prints pro-quality
inserts to accompany your mix.
So although the record companies may have the appearance of collusion,
the retailers do not. There is heavy competition among retailers
including Google who now offer videos and even current TV series shows.
Competition is good, and the point to the Justice Departments
investigation is to determine if record companies are trying to fix
prices. This may become harder to prove once the record companies begin
charging different prices for different songs.
By Dan Wilson
Best Syndication Staff Writer
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