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EU drops probe as Apple moves to equalize iTunes prices

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The European Commission ended its antitrust investigation into Apple after the company agreed to reduce the price of music downloads from its iTunes Web site in the U.K., the European Union's antitrust regulator said Wednesday.

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Apple said that within six months it will lower the prices it charges for music on its U.K. iTunes Store to match its already standardized pricing across Europe in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain

Until now iTunes has been more expensive in the U.K., where the currency remains the British pound, than in the countries that have adopted the euro, as well as compared to Denmark and Sweden which tie their currencies closely to the euro, and also more expensive than in Switzerland, which isn't even in the European Union.

The European Commission welcomed Apple's plan to equalize prices for downloads of songs from the store in Europe.

"The Commission is very much in favor of solutions which allow consumers to benefit from a truly Single Market for music downloads," competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.

For Apple, "This is an important step towards a pan-European marketplace for music," said Steve Jobs, the company's 's CEO. "We hope every major record label will take a pan-European view of pricing."

Apple blames the record labels for charging more to distribute their music in the U.K. than in other countries in Europe, and threatened to drop any record label from the iTunes portal if they didn't cut their U.K. prices.

"Apple will reconsider its continuing relationship in the U.K. with any record label that does not lower its wholesale prices in the U.K. to the pan-European level within six months," the company warned.

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