U.S. Antitrust Chief Asks Foreign Countries To Lay Off iTunes
Justice Department antitrust chief Thomas Barnett cited proposals by some foreign officials to impose restrictions on iTunes as an example of overzealous regulation that he said could discourage innovation and hurt consumers. The top U.S. antitrust official urged overseas governments to think twice before interfering with popular new technologies, singling out the over zealous scrutiny of Apple Computer’s iTunes online music service as an example of misguided enforcement.
The comments came during a speech at an antitrust law conference in Washington, D.C., before an audience that included antitrust officials from Europe and Asia. Barnett warned about a rise in “regulatory second-guessing” that “threatens to harm the very consumers it claims to help.” The question that lingered in many minds was if his comments were purely his own, or was he influenced by an Apple lobbying effort.
Barnett did not name specific agencies or countries. However, officials in France and several Scandinavian countries have been considering steps that would require Apple to permit iTunes music to play on devices other than its iPod. In prepared remarks, Barnett said the scrutiny of Apple “provides a useful illustration of how an attack on intellectual property rights can threaten dynamic innovation.” Barnett went on to say that Apple should be applauded for creating a legal, profitable and easy-to-use system for downloading music and other entertainment via the Internet. Excessive government interference can deter innovation and encourage rival companies to “devote their resources to legal challenges rather than business innovation,” he added.