Apple iPod antitrust trial features emails from Steve Jobs

The trial evidence includes emails from Jobs, as well as video deposition testimony the former Apple chief executive gave shortly before he died in 2011.

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP/File
Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaks during a launch event for Apple's music download service, iTunes, in Tokyo, in 2005. A billion-dollar class-action lawsuit over Apple’s iPod music players headed to trial in a California federal court Tuesday, in an antitrust case where the legal wrangling has lasted far longer than the technology that sparked the complaint.

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc, led the company to violate antitrust laws by restricting music purchases for iPod users to Apple's iTunes digital store, an attorney for consumers suing Apple said in court.

Opening statements began on Tuesday in an Oakland, California, federal court in the long-running class action, which harks back to Apple's pre-iPhone era. The plaintiffs, a group of individuals and businesses who purchased iPods from 2006 to 2009, are seeking about $350 million in damages from Apple for unfairly blocking competing device makers. That amount would be automatically tripled under antitrust laws.

Plaintiff attorney Bonny Sweeney showed the court emails from top Apple executives, including Jobs, discussing a challenge in the online music market from Real Networks, which developed a rival digital song manager. When it was developed, music purchased on Real's store could be played on iPods.

"There was a concern by Apple that this would eat into their market share," Sweeney told the eight-member jury.

Apple eventually introduced a software update that barred RealPlayer music from the iPod. Plaintiffs say that step discouraged iPod owners from buying a competing device when it came time to upgrade.

Apple attorney William Isaacson said the company had every right to improve iTunes to protect iPods from security threats, as well as from the damage caused by Real Networks software.

"It posed a danger to the consumer experience and to the quality of the product," Isaacson said.

The trial evidence includes emails from Jobs, as well as video deposition testimony the former Apple chief executive gave shortly before he died in 2011.

In July 2004, Jobs wrote to other Apple executives with a suggested press release about Real Networks.

"How's this?" Jobs wrote. "'We are stunned that Real is adopting the tactics and ethics of a hacker and breaking into the iPod.'"

"I like likening them to hackers," Apple marketing chief Philip Schiller responded.

During his 2011 deposition, Jobs displayed some of the edge he was known for, according to a transcript filed in court. Asked if he was familiar with Real Networks, Jobs replied: "Do they still exist?"

Jobs said Apple was influenced by concerns about how record companies would react if music could be taken off the iPod and copied onto other computers. He could not recall many of the details of how he viewed the Real Networks threat in 2004.

Asked if his statements about Real Networks at the time sounded angry, Jobs replied: " hey don't sound too angry to me when I read them."

He continued: "Usually, a vehement - I don't know about the word 'vehement,' but a strong response from Apple would be a lawsuit."

Apple argues that it did not possess monopoly power in the digital music player market, and that it has no legal duty to make its products compatible for competitors. Apple software chief Eddy Cue as well as Schiller are both expected to testify.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is The Apple iPod iTunes Anti-Trust Litigation, 05-37. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.