Apple tells court it deleted non-iTunes music from iPods

Apple is in court over allegations that it deleted non-iTunes songs from iPods. This is the third class-action lawsuit Apple has faced since 2011. If Apple is found guilty, the damages could be worth $350 million.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs holds up an iPod during an event in San Jose, Calif. on Oct. 12, 2005. Jurors in a class-action lawsuit against Apple Inc. on Tuesday, Dec. 2 saw emails from the late CEO and his top lieutenants that show Jobs was determined to keep Apple's popular iPod music players free from songs that were sold by competing online stores.

For the third time in three years, Apple was in court defending itself in a major anti-trust lawsuit.

Apple was in the US District Court in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday defending claims that it deleted music from iPods that wasn't downloaded from its iTunes store. Several Californians first brought the class-action antitrust lawsuit in 2005. Damages could be worth $350 million. If Apple is found to have violated antitrust laws, the damages could triple. 

“You guys decided to give them the worst possible experience and blow up [a user’s music library]," attorney Patrick Coughlin said in court, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The suit claims that Apple showed an error message to consumers who tried to download music purchased through rival services onto an iPod. ITunes would instruct the user to restore the factory settings, but when users did that, the music from rival services would be deleted. Plaintiffs claim that these moves stifled other online music companies, such as MusicMatch and Napster. 

Apple told the system not to tell users what the problem was, Mr. Coughlin told the court. Apple contends that it does not need to give users too much information because the iPod's designers "don't want to confuse users."

Augustin Farrugia, Apple's security director, didn't deny that Apple deleted non-iTunes songs. Instead, he said hackers made Apple "very paranoid" about the music service's security, and Apple deleted non-iTunes music to protect consumers from break-ins. “The system was totally hacked,” he told the court. Apple showed evidence that Steve Jobs, Apple's late co-founder, was worried about hackers. “Someone is breaking into our house,” Mr. Jobs said in an e-mail shown to the court. In 2004, Apple released a statement accusing RealNetworks of hacking into iPods, and said future software updates could prevent its songs from playing on iPods because of its actions.

This is the third major antitrust lawsuit Apple has faced since Jobs died in 2011. In 2012, Apple and five publishers were accused of conspiring to raise e-book prices. Apple settled on Nov. 21 for $400 million. In April, Apple and five other tech companies will go to court over a class-action suit of conspiring not to recruit one another's workers so that wages could be kept down. In each of the lawsuits, Jobs' e-mails have been a major source of evidence. 

Jobs was a genius when it came to creating a vision for the company, Michael A. Carrier, a professor at Rutgers School of Law, told The New York Times. “But it went along with a really healthy ego and perhaps the lack of an antitrust filter — thinking about how these words would appear years later tossed up on the screen in front of a jury.”

Later this week, Eddy Cue, who oversees iTunes, and Phil Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, will testify over the allegations of deleting songs, and a videotaped deposition from Jobs will be played. 

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