SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After nearly a decade in legal wrangling, a billion-dollar class-action lawsuit over Apple’s iPod music players heads to trial on Tuesday in a California federal court. A key witness will be none other than the company’s legendary late founder Steve Jobs, who will be heard in a videotaped deposition.
Attorneys for consumers and electronics retailers claim Apple Inc. used software in its iTunes store that forced would-be song buyers to use iPods instead of cheaper music players made by rivals. The software is no longer used, but the plaintiffs argue that it inflated the prices of millions of iPods sold between 2006 and 2009 — to the tune of $350 million. Under federal antitrust law, the tech giant could be ordered to pay three times that amount if the jury agrees with the estimate and finds the damages resulted from anti-competitive behavior.
“The fact that this case is still going 10 years later is a sign that technology often outpaces law,” said Mark Lemley, a Stanford law professor.
Attorneys are set to make opening statements Tuesday morning in the Oakland, California courtroom of U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.
The case harkens back to the early days of digital music and portable devices, when Apple quickly became the world’s biggest legal seller of downloaded songs after launching its iTunes store in 2003. By agreement with major record companies, which were wary of unauthorized copying and file-sharing services like Napster and Kazaa, Apple encoded the songs sold through iTunes with “digital rights management” software that prevented unauthorized copying. The same software, known as FairPlay, was also built into iPods.
But Apple’s FairPlay was incompatible with anti-copying code used by other online music sellers, such as the RealPlayer Music Store operated by RealNetworks, an Internet streaming company based in Seattle. As a result, songs from rival online stores could not be played on iPods, and songs purchased on iTunes could not be played on competing portable devices, including Microsoft’s Zune and Diamond Multimedia’s Rio music player.
Music fans chafed at the restrictions. RealNetworks soon introduced coding that allowed songs purchased from its store to be played on iPods and other devices. But Apple blocked the RealNetworks code.