President To Shake Apple’s Tree

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves may be putting in a call to Apple co-founder and chief exec Steve Jobs to find out why he can’t buy music for his iPhone.

Ilves, who has been a loyal customer since he bought an Apple IIe in 1982, is also a keen music fan. Despite a busy schedule that prevented him from turning up in person, he filmed an opening address for delegates attending this year’s Tallinn Music Week.

However, when he visits the Apple Store, he can buy a wide range of games, gimmicks and even lectures. But films and music are off limits.

The UK’s The Economist recently ran a piece detailing which countries can and cannot access music via the Apple Store. It also tried to work out the criteria Apple uses when deciding if a particular territory should be able to access its music and games content.

“Clearly the size of the market is not the determinant. China and Russia don’t appear, but Luxembourg does. It is not about prosperity: Iceland – which, believe it or not, is still one of the richer countries in the world – is out, whereas Vietnam is in,” it said.
“Political freedom or the rule of law are not the binding factors. The Philippines and Thailand are on the list, whereas impeccable democracies such as Slovenia are not.”

It said the list, rather than being compiled by a groundbreaking U.S. company like Apple, appears to have been put together by a company from “old Europe” that has not noticed that the Berlin Wall has come down and that the division of Europe at Yalta into consumer-citizens in a rich, free west and captive east is long out of date.

It certainly seems as if the countries being denied access to Apple’s music and films content are largely from the old Eastern Bloc, although one consumer organisation in Poland has berated Apple for its approach to the biggest and most advanced market in eastern Europe.

The country is now celebrating a partial victory as Apple has agreed to open up its distribution market. But even in Poland, the company’s offering is nothing like what’s available across the border in Germany.

President Ilves is understandably irked, as his country is one of the most wired countries on Earth. Tallinn is the centre of NATO’s cyber-warfare research, and Estonians invented another Internet icon: Skype.

Skype’s director of new products, Sten Tamkivi, has an iPhone, an iPad and a Mac. He describes the Apple rule as “a weird relic of commercial east-west segregation inside what is otherwise known as the European Union.”

The Estonian media reported that the country’s consumer organisations believe it’s the eastern European authors’ unions that are discouraging iTunes from entering their territories because they’re not happy about the amount of royalties they’d receive from downloads.