A decade old lawsuit could be a huge problem for Apple…
Back in the day – and I’m really referring to the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s – digital music was a total mess. There was no standardization in terms of file formats, desktop players or portable players. The only thing that WAS clear and pretty much standardized was that no matter where you turned, any digital music you didn’t rip yourself or pirate through tools like Napster, Limewire or some other torrent tool, were clogged with DRM. What that meant was that you couldn’t play it with the app or portable player you wanted to play it with…that is, without having to jump through some pretty nasty hoops.
If pirating wasn’t your thing – which in many cases turned out to be a good thing, because the RIAA is nothing but a group of money grubbing, ugly lawyers out to screw the American public… but I digress – then what you really had to do was buy your music, burn it to a CD and then rerip the songs. This worked with any and every digital music store you purchased digital music from, regardless of what your favorite or default store or app was; or what digital music player you carried. This effectively “stripped” the DRM out of the music, as the DRM didn’t transfer to the new CD you burned, and therefore, wasn’t on the songs you ripped from it. Life was a lot better for you AND the music you bought, as you set it free.
At that point, everyone DELETED the original digital music files they purchased and replaced them with the DRM free ones they just created. It was at THAT point that you copied or transferred them to your portable music player, because at that point…you could copy them to ANY player and play them with ANY desktop music app. Some people were really into WinAmp. Some really liked MusicMatch Jukebox. Some were into Windows Media Player or Apple’s iTunes.
That was a LOT to put on the consumer. It really made us jump through a LOT of hoops; and honestly, not everyone was happy doing it. I did it because it was easy enough for me to do. The only thing that anyone really needed was a blank CD and a bit of time to burn and rerip the music. The technical side of this whole story was wrapped up in the bit rate of the source music files vs. the bit rate of the files you ripped from the CD you burned – which was greater and offered the better quality? The big question for audiophiles here was, “did I just introduce distortion, his or other noise into the music I purchased in order to get around the playing limitations I feel I have?”
However, back in the day – and here I’m talking circa 2005 or so – a lawsuit was filed on behalf of many of the iPod owners, accusing Apple of violating both US Federal and California State antitrust laws by restricting music purchased via iTunes from being played on other digital music players or desktop apps. The suit also accused Apple of restricting iPods from playing music purchased from music services OTHER than iTunes.
Since the suit’s original filing in 2005, a number of changes have been made to the suit. Apple also removed DRM from all music sold via iTunes in 2009, effectively making the issue a moot one from that time forward. One of the major modifications of the suit was to restrict the case to iPods sold between September 2006 and March 2009.
The opening statements in the complaint reference the now defunct 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, yet, this is precisely what Apple has done… 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.”
This largely came about because Apple was trying to protect its iPod and iTunes business from Real Networks and Real Player, MusicMatch, and others. Unfortunately for ALL involved, Apple’s iPod was a huge hit, bringing order from the chaos that was digital music at the time. NO ONE (really) wanted any other player, and so Apple did its best to protect their market, and they effectively created a monopoly as far as music and portable music players were concerned.
As I mentioned, the suit has been modified; and now, with its restrictions, is set to get underway on 2014-12-02. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with it. The plaintiffs are asking for $350M USD, though if found guilty and found to have willfully and purposefully violated the law, the award Apple could be required to put up could top $1B USD, according to current antitrust law penalties which specify triple the damage amount.
How does all of this make you feel? Did you buy an iPod between September 2006 and March 2009? Will you be joining this class? Do you feel you were inappropriately restricted in your choice of desktop music apps as well as portable music players? Did you put aside a desktop app or portable music player because it wasn’t Apple or iTunes compatible? Does this lawsuit, even with its modifications and restrictions have any real relevance? Does the burn and rerip option negate the whole suit because it provided for a reasonable work around? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below and give me your thoughts? I’d really like to hear what you have to say, as the right information to the right attorneys at this point, could make the difference between a simple settlement and triple the damages.