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It took just three young Norwegians with time to spare and a liking for “non-mainstream stuff and indie hip-hop” to bring the mighty Apple Computer to its knees in Scandinavia.

The three – a lawyer, an information specialist and a technology expert – are employed by the Norwegian Consumer Council. Aged between 29 and 31, they are tech-savvy users of digital music and backed by stringent laws to protect consumers.

“It started with our private lives,” says Torgeir Waterhouse, the lawyer. “I’ve been buying music online for some time. ITunes practically owns the market in Norway, so we started to look at them.”

From these modest beginnings emerged one of the most significant threats to the iPod phenomenon to have arisen since the iconic digital music player was launched.

The three Norwegians – members of the NCC’s Digital Consumer group – have concluded that Apple’s iTunes service breaches Norwegian law because it prevents users from playing music they have downloaded on any player apart from Apple’s own iPod.

In association with its sister organisations in Sweden and Denmark, the NCC has taken action that could eventually force courts to make downloaded songs on iTunes usable on all digital music players.

The three states argue that consumers, having purchased music on iTunes, must be permitted to listen to it on other players such as mobile phones.

If Apple ignores the court rulings, it could be fined repeatedly. Its online music store could even be closed down across Scandinavia.

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