What is Apple hiding from musicians in iTunes lawsuit?

As a lawsuit between an independent production team and Aftermath Records heads to trial, a surprise third party has entered the fray: Apple has filed an objection to prevent depositions from Steve Jobs and others from being made public, saying that they contain “highly confidential and proprietary trade secrets.”

FBT Productions (responsible for production on Eminem tracks like “Without Me” and “Lose Yourself,” with half of the team, Jeff Bass, winning both Grammies and Oscars for his work with the rapper) is suing Aftermath for unpaid digital royalties. The question at the heart of the lawsuit is whether digital downloads count as “sales” or “licenses” to end users, making the Apple testimonies particularly valuable. Exactly how valuable, however, may stay the matter of speculation if Apple has its way. Not only were many of the depositions from Apple employees taken in secret, but Jobs’ deposition was played in a closed courtroom with the transcript sealed on completion of playback, and now the company is trying to block attempts by others to find out what was said.

Apple’s nervousness comes from attempts by lawyers acting on behalf of plaintiffs in a class-action suit against Universal Music Group, again about unpaid digital royalties. The discovery process of this second lawsuit has asked for all manner of material from the FBT/Aftermath lawsuit, including expert reports, trial transcripts, and the all-important Apple depositions. In response, Apple has filed an objection to modify the original protective order, saying that the plaintiffs haven’t shown how the requested documents are relevant, complaining that their request is “broad but indiscriminate.” If releasec, the company claims, the documents will cause Apple competitive harm.

Of course, such concerns from Apple just make the depositions seem more interesting: What, exactly, does Steve Jobs say that’s so dangerous in his deposition? What secrets are hidden in the deposition — or, for that matter, Apple’s relationship with music labels — that can’t be released to the world without damaging the company? And just how bad will things be if the court doesn’t agree with Apple’s attempt to prevent the unsealing of the records? iTunes users, we appear to be living in interesting times.

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