Unfortunately for Apple Europe is not a country, just yet

Apple comes in for some stick from the Financial Times this morning, which wonders why it will take the master of the iPod up to six months to bring the price of tracks on iTunes’ UK site down into line with other European countries. Granted, Apple’s move will address a European Commission antitrust probe, as it will now offer Brits the same price for iTunes downloads as on the continent. But Apple is specifically laying the blame at the door of UK music companies, who (Apple says) demand more cash to distribute music in the UK (see Broadstuff’s entertaining rip-off Britain post). Apple says it “will reconsider its continuing relationship in the UK with any record label that does not lower its wholesale prices in the U.K. to the pan-European level within six months.” Or else.

Yes, it sounds like bullying, but in truth the real culprit here is the spaghetti junction of copyright laws in different European countries. The Commission has tried to tackle this issue in a pan-European manner, but it still remains a mess rather than the border-less dream of free movement of digital goods and services. In fact, as Valleywag saliently points out, the Commission’s own antitrust spokesman admits “the fact that the same content is not available in all EU countries is not the result of restricted business practices between Apple and the record companies, but of the restricting copyright legislation.”

Uh, fail!

Ironically, this continuing market confusion could create an opportunity for a big player – like Apple or Nokia – to do what the Commission has failed to do and create true a true Pan-European service, thus winning market share.

But all of this may just be bluster on Apple’s part. As the FT points out, foreign exchange markets could help Apple meet the six-month deadline anyway (UK downloads are now down to €1.05, close to €0.99 in France and Ireland), even before record company executive come out of last night’s cocaine-induced haze.