Apple hit with $3 billion fine in Spotify case

Apple has been hit with a multibillion-dollar fine after Spotify claimed unfair trading.

Apple has been hit with a multibillion-dollar fine after Spotify claimed unfair trading. Photo: AAP

Apple has been hit with a 1.84 billion euro ($3.06 billion) EU antitrust fine, its first ever, for preventing Spotify and other music streaming services from informing users of payment options outside its App Store.

The European Commission’s decision was triggered by a 2019 complaint by Swedish music streaming service Spotify over this restriction and Apple’s 30 per cent App Store fees.

The European Union enforcer said Apple’s restrictions constituted unfair trading conditions, a relatively novel argument in an antitrust case and also used by the Dutch antitrust agency in a decision against Apple in 2021 in a case brought by dating app providers.

The fine dwarfed the 500 million euros ($833 million) sources with knowledge of the matter had told Reuters they expected the Commission to mete out to Apple.

The regulator said in a statement it added an additional lump sum of 1.8 billion euros ($3 billion) as a deterrent to Apple and because a significant part of the harm caused by Apple’s conduct was non-monetary resulting in a total of 1.84 billion euros ($A3.06 billion), 0.5 per cent of Apple’s worldwide turnover.

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said this was the first time the Commission has added a deterrent lump sum on top of an antitrust fine as a deterrent.

“For a decade, Apple abused its dominant position in the market for the distribution of music streaming apps through the App Store,” EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

“They did so by restricting developers from informing consumers about alternative, cheaper music services available outside of the Apple ecosystem. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” she said.

Vestager ordered Apple to remove the anti-steering provisions and to refrain from similar practices in the future.

Apple criticised the EU decision, saying it would challenge it in court. A ruling at the Luxembourg-based General Court, Europe’s second-highest, is likely to take several years. Until then, Apple will have to pay the fine and comply with the EU order.

“The decision was reached despite the Commission’s failure to uncover any credible evidence of consumer harm, and ignores the realities of a market that is thriving, competitive, and growing fast,” the company said in a statement.

“The primary advocate for this decision — and the biggest beneficiary — is Spotify, a company based in Stockholm, Sweden. Spotify has the largest music streaming app in the world, and has met with the European Commission more than 65 times during this investigation,” it said.

It said the Swedish company pays no commission to Apple as it sells its subscriptions on its website and not on Apple’s App Store.

Vestager’s order to Apple to remove its App Store restrictions echoes the same requirement under new EU tech rules known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA) which Apple has to comply with on March 7.

Apple’s fine, however, is about a quarter of the 8.25 billion euro ($A13.74 billion) fines the EU regulator meted out to Alphabet’s Google in three cases in the previous decade.

In contrast to the music streaming case, Apple is seeking to settle another EU antitrust investigation by offering to open up its tap-and-go mobile payment systems to rivals.

EU regulators, who subsequently sought feedback from rivals and users, will likely accept its offer without fining the company.

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