‘Coolest gadget under the tree’ is illegal in UK

By Rosie Murray-West, City Correspondent
12/06/2004

Technology fans across Britain could be risking a visit from the police when they unwrap a must-have gadget this Christmas – a US device that has been deemed illegal in Britain.

The iTrip, which attaches to the Apple iPod music player, allows you to play the music you have downloaded on to your iPod player by broadcasting it through the FM radio frequency.

While it only operates in a very small area, the device still contravenes the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949. All FM frequencies have already been licensed to radio stations, and the regulator Ofcom says that by tuning your iTrip into the radio, you are effectively creating a pirate station.

“If you’ve tuned it into your neighbours’ Radio 4 and they ring up and complain, we could well turn up at your door and say ‘please stop doing that’,” an Ofcom spokesman said. He added that the maximum penalty for using an iTrip was two years in prison or a large fine, but this was unlikely to happen.

The iTrip, which is legal in the US and elsewhere, is easy to obtain in the UK. It isn’t made by Apple, but by a company called Griffin Technology. It is sold on the Apple iTunes site in the US, but Ofcom said that Apple would not ship it to the UK. However, the device is available on Ebay for about £20.

There are also a number of websites based in the UK that sell the iTrip. One, called Sputnikshop, claims to be the “official UK website to buy an iTrip” and “an official Griffin reseller”. However, when called, the company behind the site claimed that it did not sell iTrips in the UK, and that the company was winding up. However, an iTrip was successfully ordered from the site the day before.

The UK is not the only country to ban the iTrip. In Austria and Iceland, cartons of the product have been stopped at the border because it contravenes similar radio legislation. Nonetheless, it is expected to be a popular Christmas gift this year. The Apple website describes it as “the coolest iPod accessory in the world”.

Unusually, the iPod is set to be one of the most popular gifts two years running. The iPod part of Apple now has a yearly turnover of about £2billion, and accessories such as the iTrip are seen as the obvious gift choice for people who already have a player.

The Ofcom spokesman said the organisation would deal severely with people selling iTrips into the UK, because they were profiting from an illegal accessory.