Apple’s future may be in a $1 trillion valuation, but the company continues to be haunted by its past. Today, a nearly decade-old antitrust lawsuit alleging Apple of monopolizing the digital download market by preventing other media devices from playing music purchased on Apple iTunes Store has gone to trial in California. The lawsuit seeks compensation upwards of $350 million.
Prior to 2009, Apple employed its FairPlay technology, which provided DRM (digital rights management) encryption on songs it sold through iTunes, preventing the songs from being played on anything but iPods. The original complaint was filed in January 2005 by an Apple iTunes Store customer, Thomas Slattery, who alleged that Apple’s limitations on how users can play music they purchased from Apple’s iTunes Store “forced” him to purchase an iPod. Slattery was not alone in his gripe with Apple, as record label execs also disliked their artists’ music being limited to iPods, with one anonymously informing CNET they “hate the current situation.”
Apparently, in court, time is flexible, and it appears anyone’s past can be manipulated against their will, even the dead. Apple founder/visionary/creative lifeblood Steve Jobs will have his old emails used against Apple in order to demonstrate that the company “took action to block its competitors and in the process harmed competition and harmed consumers,” according to Bonny Sweeney, the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer. One of the documents that will reportedly be used is a 2003 email in which Jobs made sure iPods would not be compatible with the MusicMatch download store. A 2011 deposition Steve Jobs recorded for the trial six months before his October 5, 2011 death will also reportedly come into play.
The lawsuit covers specific iPods purchased between September 12, 2006 and March 31, 2009. Five months before the original January 2005 complaint against Apple, RealNetworks was embroiled in a heated battle with Apple over RealNetwork’s Harmony technology, which allowed users to play music downloaded from their music store on any portable media device, including iPods. The matter didn’t come to fisticuffs, but Apple hit RealNetwork with the “hacker” label, claimed the Harmony technology was an attempt to “break into the iPod.” Apple updated its software in December 2004 to prevent RealNetwork-purchased songs from being playable on iPods.
Apple removed the DRM encryption for all of the songs in its library four years later in April 2009, requiring iTunes users who purchased DRM-encrypted songs from their store to pay .30 cents per song to upgrade it to its DRM-less version.