Apple faces trial in decade-old iTunes DRM lawsuit

Plaintiffs complain that Apple married iTunes music with iPod players, and they want $350 million in damages

The past is coming back to haunt Apple, as a nearly 10-year-old class-action antitrust lawsuit accusing the company of trying to monopolize online music distribution is headed to trial.

The Apple iPod iTunes antitrust litigation accuses Apple of violating U.S. and California antitrust law by restricting music purchased on iTunes from being played on devices other than iPods and by not allowing iPods to play music purchased on other digital music services.

Late Apple founder Steve Jobs will reportedly appear via a videotaped statement during the trial, scheduled to begin Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Plaintiffs are seeking about US$350 million in the case. Lawyers for both sides have filed dozens of trial documents over the past decade, with the court refusing to dismiss the case against Apple, but throwing out some of the original claims in a 2005 complaint. In October, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers scheduled a trial to begin this Tuesday.

Apple representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The original January 2005 complaint in the case references a music distribution industry that no longer exists nearly a decade later. The document refers to iTunes competitors Napster, Buy.com, Music Rebellion and Audio Lunch Box, along with digital music players from Gateway, Epson, RCA and e.Digital.

The opening paragraphs of the complaint talk about defunct CD seller Tower Records.

"It would be egregious and unlawful for a major retailer such as Tower Records, for example, to require that all music CDs purchased by consumers at Tower Records be played only with CD players purchased at Tower Records," the complaint said. "Yet, this is precisely what Apple has done."

Apple has monopoly market power, lawyers for plaintiff Thomas Slattery wrote. "Apple has rigged the hardware and software in its iPod such that the device will not directly play any music files originating from online music stores other than Apple's iTunes music store," they wrote.

Apple removed DRM (digital rights management) from iTunes in early 2009, so the lawsuit covers iPods purchased from Apple between September 2006 and March 2009.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags Thomas SlatteryInternet-based applications and servicessteve jobsantitrustYvonne Gonzalez RogerslegalCivil lawsuitsMusic and audiointernetU.S. District Court for the Northern District of CaliforniaApple

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