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What Europe’s Digital Markets Act Means for the Music Business

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If bosses at the world’s biggest technology companies were still in any way doubting the European Union’s commitment towards regulating the digital marketplace, the 1.8 billion euro ($1.95 billion) fine levied against Apple on Monday (March 4) by the European Commission for breaking competition laws over music streaming served as a powerful statement of intent.

This week, more new EU rules come into force governing how the largest online platforms operate in Europe, now that the deadline for complying with the Digital Markets Act (DMA) has passed. 

Beginning today (March 7), the six tech giants designated “gatekeepers” by the European Commission — Apple, Google parent company Alphabet, Amazon, TikTok-owner ByteDance, Meta and Microsoft – are required to comply with a raft of legislative changes designed to rein in their global dominance. 

They include outlawing companies favoring in-house services at the expense of third-party providers and forcing platforms to offer other businesses, such as apps, access to the data they generate – allowing smaller services to contact their customers directly and making it easier for users to switch services.

The laws are enforceable by fines of up to 20% of total worldwide turnover (aka, gross revenue) for repeat infringers, or, in extreme cases the “last resort option” of forced divestments and the break-up of businesses. 

CHANGE ALREADY UNDERWAY

The changes are already having a significant impact on digital music services and, in turn, the global record business. 

In January, Apple announced that it will begin allowing European users to download app stores other than the company-operated one that comes installed on iPhones. It will additionally lower the fees it charges developers for purchases made through the App Store, reducing commission from the existing 15% to 30% level to between 10% and 17% for developers using the company’s payment-processing system. 

However, Apple’s plans to charge “high volume” services with over one million users a €0.50 ($0.54) “Core Technology Fee” per download, per year, for using alternatives to the App Store has been heavily criticized by a number of European businesses, including Spotify and Deezer.

“Apple’s new terms not only disregard both the spirit and letter of the law, but if left unchanged, make a mockery of the DMA,” said the streaming services in an open letter to the European Commission, sent last week and also signed by 32 other European digital companies and associations, including trade body Digital Music Europe.

The new fee structure, which only apply in the 27 EU member states, will deter app developers from opting into the revised terms “and will hamper fair competition,” say Spotify and Deezer, calling on regulators to take “swift, timely and decisive action against Apple.” (In January, Spotify stated in a company blog post that the new fees “equates for us to being the same or worse as under the old rules.”)

Similar anti-competition concerns were behind the European Commission’s decision to fine Apple 1.8 billion euros at the start of March, following longstanding complaints from Spotify over Apple’s restrictions to outside developers and the 30% fee it charges them on all purchases made through iOS apps. (Apple has said it will appeal the fine, which was issued under existing EU terms, rather the Digital Markets Act).

Defending its response to the new EU provisions, Apple estimates that less than 1% of developers will pay the Core Technology Fee and warned that the DMA brings greater risks to users and developers by compromising its ability to detect malware, fraud and illicit content in external apps. 

NOT JUST APPLE

Other so-called gatekeepers – defined by policy makers as a platform with an annual turnover of more than 7.5 billion euros ($8.1 billion) and more than 45 million active monthly users in the EU region — are also making sweeping changes as a result of the DMA. 

Aside from Apple, music executives will be paying most attention to how ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok responds to the law’s provisions. In November, the company launched an appeal against the EU’s classification of TikTok as a “gatekeeper” arguing that the platform is a “challenger, not an incumbent, in the digital advertising market” and that the new rules could hamper its ability to “remain competitive and grow.”

Despite the ongoing legal challenge, TikTok has already taken a number of steps to comply with the terms of the DMA, including the launch of enhanced data portability tools that allow developers to download and export data profiles, followers and posts from TikTok to other services with users’ permission. These changes are being introduced now to European users, TikTok announced in a blog post on March 4, “with plans to roll out globally in the near future.”

In January, Google and YouTube parent company Alphabet announced that it will allow users to pick their default browser and provide more links to competing sites when searching Google – although, like Apple, Alphabet’s compliance with the DMA has been questioned.

Posting on X (formerly Twitter) this month, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney criticized the tech giant for imposing a commission fee of up to 27% for any app purchases made not using Google’s payment services. (Google/Alphabet has previously been issued three major fines totaling 8.2 billion euros by the EU over antitrust issues). 

Meanwhile, Meta is allowing users to separate their Facebook and Instagram accounts to prevent personal information being shared for targeted ads. Amazon is modifying its Amazon Ads service to provide stronger data protections for customers, and Microsoft is implementing changes to its Windows operating system.

The terms of the Digital Markets Act only apply to companies and services operating in the 27-member state EU block, but their impact extends far afield. Following the EU’s lead, similar regulations to rein in tech companies’ dominance are being drawn up in several other nations, including Japan, South Korea, India, Brazil, Australia and the United Kingdom.

What meaningful impact the DMA or comparable international legislation will actually have on curbing Big Tech — and the music companies that either drive or rely upon them to reach audiences — could take years to be felt, if at all, but EU regulators say they are not shying away from the challenge.

“We are looking very carefully at how companies are complying [with the DMA]” the European Commission recently said in a statement, “and once we have full enforcement powers will not hesitate to act.”

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