The Federal Trade Commission is quietly investigating whether the terms Apple places on competitors’ music services on its devices pose an anti-trust issue, Reuters reports based on anonymous sources. Apple’s traditional 30% cut of all digital goods sold on its platform is putting pressure on subscription services—they either have to charge more for Apple subscriptions or put up with narrower profit margins on Apple sales.

This is not exactly a new issue. When Apple first started enforcing the vig, many digital goods companies, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, stopped selling their digital goods directly via their apps. As long as they sold e-books via their web site but then let people download them into their apps, they were safe from the vig. However, this isn’t as useful a solution for subscription services. And now that Apple has its own subscription streaming service, this is starting to raise some eyebrows.

The issue isn’t so much the 30% vig as it is the other restrictions Apple places on apps available for the iOS store, such as a restriction against advertising that the app is available on other platforms, a ban on mentioning it’s on the web, and a restriction against linking to their web site from within the application. These same restrictions apply to e-book apps, of course, but Judge Cote declined to include any app store remediation in her e-book anti-trust settlement, not wanting to get bogged down in regulating Apple’s store as well as its policies.

For the same reason Cote declined to get involved, I’m doubtful anything will come of these rumors—but who knows? Perhaps we’ll see after all.


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