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Spotify is asking European regulators to help it fight Apple — just before Apple launches a big new subscription service

Spotify has complained about Apple for years. Now it has filed a formal complaint with the EU.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Spotify is complaining, again, about what it calls Apple’s anticompetitive actions.

The twist this time: The streaming music service has filed an actual, formal complaint against Apple with the European Commission and is making an accompanying public relations push.

“We’re now requesting that the EC take action to ensure fair competition,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says in a blog post. The company’s filing is confidential, but Spotify has created a site laying out its case against Apple; it also hosted a briefing for reporters Wednesday morning with its general counsel Horacio Gutierrez, and Ek will make public remarks at a European Union event Thursday.

The very short version of Spotify’s argument is one that it and other media companies have made for close to a decade: that Apple uses the combination of its giant installed base of iPhone users, plus its App Store, to unfairly tax and inhibit companies that sell competitive services.

In Spotify’s case, it argues that Apple is trying to slow the streaming music service while pushing its own Apple Music service, by charging a 30 percent fee for subscriptions sold through its App Store. It also complains that Apple won’t allow Spotify to easily integrate with hardware like its Apple Watch and HomePod speakers.

Again, none of these complaints are new for Spotify, which has pursued regulatory help from both the US and the EU for years. They are also not new for other parts of the media business, like magazine and newspaper publishers, as well as video companies.

It’s an ongoing dispute that occasionally flares up in different parts of the industry: Late last year, for instance, Netflix stopped letting new customers sign up via the App Store, because it didn’t want to share subscription revenue with Apple.

Now Apple is set to unveil a new subscription offering, which it will show off at a March 25 event, that will showcase a push into original video it has been making for a couple of years, as well as a “Netflix for magazines” (but probably not newspapers). There’s lots of speculation that Apple may bundle all this together, along with Apple Music, into one mega-subscription service, which could prove attractive for consumers and problematic for competitors.

On Spotify’s press call this morning, Gutierrez said Spotify’s filing is “completely unrelated” to Apple’s event, which was formally announced this week but has been on the industry’s radar for many months.

But there are other bits of context that also make today’s announcement different from past Spotify complaints. In the US, for instance, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has renewed her call to separate Apple from its App store; the Supreme Court is also reviewing an antitrust case against Apple focused on its store. And European regulators are broadly skeptical of American tech giants: See the GDPR privacy rules that went into effect last year.

Apple’s terms haven’t prevented Spotify from growing rapidly. It has more than 207 million users worldwide, and at least 96 million paying subscribers.

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