The EU found with Spotify, that Apple was distorting music streaming competition by limiting App Store rules for informing users of other buying options.

The EU accused Apple of distorting music streaming competition by limiting App Store rules for informing users of other buying options. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/AFP).

Brussels slaps Apple with historic fine for EU law violation

  • The EU accused Apple of distorting music streaming competition by limiting App Store rules for informing users of other buying options.
  • For the first time, the EU will fine Apple – €500 million – for stifling rivals like Spotify on its platforms.
  • Apple is expected to robustly challenge the ruling.

In the tumultuous landscape of the technology industry, a profound clash has dominated headlines for several years: the ongoing feud between two giants, Spotify and Apple.

At the core of the dispute lies a narrative of fierce competition, regulatory scrutiny in the European Union (EU), and the quest for equity in music streaming. While Spotify has emerged as a trailblazer in the online music domain, hooking audiences worldwide with its extensive catalog and tailored playlists, beneath the surface lies a palpable tension with Apple Inc.

The crux of Spotify’s grievance lies in what it perceives as Apple’s monopolistic grip over its App Store ecosystem. In Spotify’s eyes, Apple’s stringent rules and significant fees impose undue burdens on competitors, stifling innovation and limiting consumer choice. Central to the discord is the “Apple tax” issue – a term coined to describe the hefty commission fees levied by Apple on in-app purchases made through its platform. 

For Spotify, this means navigating a landscape where every note played comes with a price that threatens to undermine its competitive edge and erode its bottom line. Spotify contends that Apple’s control extends beyond financial matters, permeating into the very fabric of user experience. Allegations of preferential treatment for Apple’s music streaming service, Apple Music, have fueled accusations of anti-competitive behavior and sparked an outcry within the industry.

At the helm of Spotify stands CEO Daniel Ek, who is leading the charge against what he sees as Apple’s stranglehold on the music streaming industry. “The company charges an excessive 30% tax and imposes prohibitive rules on developers, many of whom helped build iOS into what it is today. And increasingly, Apple considers these developers among its fiercest challengers,” he wrote in an October 2023 opinion piece for the UK’s extreme right-wing newspaper, The Daily Mail.

Daniel Ek, founder & CEO, Spotify, leading the charge against Apple's App Store charges.

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, at The Future of Audiobooks Event on October 03, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/Getty Images via AFP).

Frustrated by what he sees as Apple’s anti-competitive practices, Ek has not shied away from taking his concerns public. Spotify filed a complaint with the European Commission in December 2023, alleging that Apple’s practices violate EU competition law. The legal battle has since underscored the high stakes involved, with neither company backing down.

Ek claims he envisions a future where innovation flourishes in a fair and open marketplace, where consumers have genuine choice, and competition breeds excellence. That being so, his commitment to holding Apple accountable for its actions is crucial to him.

It’s worth noting of course that Spotify itself has recently been the subject of revelations about its questionably small remuneration policies for the artists it hosts on its platform, so Ek’s shining city on a digital hill is built on the proviso that Spotify comes out on top.

What is the outcome for Apple and Spotify in the EU?

Before the latest complaint filed in December 2023, Spotify lodged an official antitrust grievance with the European Commission nearly four years ago, citing Apple’s anti-competitive practices that impeded innovation and detrimentally affected developers and consumers globally, especially in Europe. The situation has remained essentially unchanged since, according to the streaming giant.

Regrettably, Spotify noted that the absence of definitive regulatory intervention has encouraged Apple to persist in its questionable conduct. Despite a growing chorus of advocates clamoring for action, regulators have been slow to act decisively, leaving a palpable frustration among stakeholders.

Before the complaint was filed two months ago, Spotify and seven other companies and organizations in sectors including publishing, audio streaming, dating, communications, and marketplaces sent a joint letter in January 2023 to call for meaningful regulatory action against Apple’s long-standing anti-competitive European practices.

After much back and forth between regulators and the tech giants, on February 19, 2024, the bloc announced its intention to fine Apple for allegedly breaching EU law concerning access to its music streaming services. This historic penalty marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing battle between regulatory authorities and Silicon Valley giants, underscoring the EU’s commitment to enforce fair competition practices in the digital realm.

The EU’s decision to impose its first-ever fine on Apple also sends a clear message to the tech industry: compliance with EU regulations is non-negotiable. Reports indicated that this development follows a protracted investigation by EU authorities, drawing on insights from five individuals intimately familiar with the case. Their direct knowledge sheds light on the intricate details of the long-running probe, revealing the meticulous scrutiny of Apple’s business practices.

“In a closed-door meeting between EU officials and Apple in June last year, the tech firm told regulators it had already addressed any possible competition concerns arising from Spotify’s complaint,” a report by Bloomberg reads. For Apple, although accustomed to navigating complex regulatory landscapes, this fine represents a significant setback. 

When contacted for comment, Bloomberg also noted that Apple referred to a previous statement, which said that the “App Store has helped Spotify become the top music streaming service across Europe.” That translates directly into Apple  vigorously challenging the fine, using its formidable legal and financial resources to defend its practices. Nevertheless, the EU’s unwavering stance underscores the imperative of upholding fair competition principles to safeguard consumer choice and innovation within the digital ecosystem – however big and formidable the company held to be in breach. 

This landmark decision has broader implications for the tech industry. As the tech landscape continues to evolve, this landmark fine against Apple is a poignant reminder of the regulatory challenges confronting industry titans. With the EU leading the charge in enforcing antitrust laws, the repercussions of this decision will surely reverberate across the global tech industry, shaping the future of digital competition and regulation for years to come.