The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has referred Apple's iTunes service to the European Commission.

The BBC reports that this is on the grounds that iTunes overcharges UK customers.

The move is in response to September's complaint from the Consumer's Association (now called Which?) alleging that iTunes charges UK customers 20 per cent more for songs than it does in other European countries.

Apple charges UK iTunes customers 79p for tracks, while Apple's French and German customers are charged just 0.99 Euros - a 20 per cent difference for an identical service.

Which? hunt

Which? principal policy adviser Phil Evans said: "UK consumers are getting a raw deal from Apple.The online music market is a huge growth area; the European Single Market should work the same in this market as in others.

"We’re campaigning for free movement of goods and services in Europe and we’ll take on any company, or group of companies, that seek to carve up the market to their benefit."

Under European law UK consumers are supposed to enjoy the same benefits of the single market as other citizens of member states. The service also faces criticism because it prevents UK customers buying tracks from Apple's other European stores.

Music industry sources indicate that the latter hurdle reflects the territorial licensing employed by the music industry globally. An artist can have differing copyright agreements and partners in different countries across the world.

When approached, Apple told Which?: "The underlying economic model in each country has an impact on how we price our track downloads. That's not unusual, look at the price of CDs in the US versus the UK.

"We believe the real comparison to be made is with the price of other track downloads in the UK."

Costs mountie up

As usual consumers in rip-off-Britain have got the raw end of the deal when it comes to pricing. Canada's iTunes Music Store is offering tracks at half the price of tracks in the UK.

There, songs cost just 99 Canadian cents - the equivalent of about 43 pence. In the UK tracks cost 79 pence.

Discussing the international price disparity, Apple's vice-president of applications Eddie Cue told "It's all relatively close. The pricing environments are different in various countries, as are the taxes and the amount Apple must pay for the music. The costs do vary by region for Apple."