BEUC blasts 'commitment to cultural diversity.'

A pair of damning reports published today (Nov. 10) concludes that European consumers are being served poorly by online retailers and content providers.

The studies were commissioned by the Bureau Europeen des Union de Consommateurs (European Consumers Organization), which represents 40 independent organizations in the European Union and neighboring states. Brussels-based BEUC actively lobbies the European Commission on digital rights management, collecting societies and piracy issues.

In one of the new surveys, BEUC declares that the diversity of catalog is lagging among Europe's major digital music stores.

BEUC based its "Survey on Cultural Diversity" on random selections of chart albums and recordings, and their availability on seven music-download Web sites in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Germany. France's e-compil.fr, MSN in the Netherlands and iTunes Music Store in the United States were among the services tested.

The report observes that "two thirds of the current 'popular' music albums requested (were) not available, and up to 90% of requested classical music albums could not be found."

The situation is exacerbated further by the sites' poor performing search engines, the need for each site to have specific agreements with each label, and the limited presence of independent labels, BEUC adds.

"These Web sites display a very low level of 'cultural diversity' and the music download retail industry doesn't seem committed to cultural diversity," the study summarizes. "Specialized musicians and record companies could be squeezed out of the market."

In its "Survey on Digital Music," BEUC condemns incompatibility among digital-rights formats for restricting consumers' choice.

The survey scrutinizes four digital players in the United Kingdom: the iPod Photo with the AAC format; the Creative Zen Micro and Rio Carbon, which both use the Windows Media Audio, and the Sony Network Walkman, which takes downloads from Sony's Connect sites.

"This test shows that consumers' rights in the digital environment are once again restricted," BEUC concludes. "It would be technically feasible to produce a player that is compatible with all music file formats, but industry is preventing this from happening."