Over, Done with, Gone: Apple Anti-Trust – Not Guilty

Well… THAT was quick…

antitrustI’ve been looking for news on this since the jury got the case; and it finally came out – and a lot sooner than I expected it to, too.

This story broke during the day today and I’ve been struggling to get back to this so that I could find out more about what happened and what the next steps are for the plaintiffs. I have a feeling that as far as they are concerned, this isn’t over yet.

The long and the short of it, according to the plaintiffs, is that Apple improperly created a DRM system that prevented competitors, like Real Networks, from putting music from their stores on Apple’s iPod. This was really an issue between Apple and Real Networks who was feeling squeezed out of the business not only by the RIAA and the music labels who were trying to crack down on file sharing and piracy, but by a market that got out of hand quickly for them. They simply had bad desktop player software, and most everyone left for a system that had better support, better software and better hardware. You can’t blame the fish for following the ebb and flow of the tide.

But, I digress somewhat…

A federal jury in California, however, disagreed. They were able to determine after only four hours of deliberation that Apple did not violate any antitrust laws and did not harm consumers. While plaintiffs argued that Apple’s repeated updates to iTunes and its DRM were done explicitly to prevent competitors from integrating their own services with Apple’s iPod, Apple rebutted the article stating that any changes made benefited users and that competitors that may have been harmed were collateral damage.

With all the bad press that the case had, I’m surprised it got as far as it did. With all of their original lead plaintiffs dropping out due to ineligibility and the 10 years of dust on the case, I’m surprised it was heard at all. The plaintiffs are expected to appeal the decision (no big surprise there), but all that seems to be happening now is that the lawyers are billing hours to a case that should have died and/or was already decided by a jury.

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Apple DRM Antitrust Suite to Begin

A decade old lawsuit could be a huge problem for Apple…
image3014Back 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.

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Unlocked Phones and the DMCA

The DMCA

There’s a lot of hub-bub around the whole unlocked phone issue and the DMCA in the States. I’ve broken it down for you here.

There’s a lot of confusion around unlocked phones right now. Recently, the Library of Congress Librarian, who has jurisdiction over expectations in the DMCA removed an exemption related to removing a carrier lock on a cell phone; but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here are a few important factoids around the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA.

  • Put into effect 12-Oct-1998
  • Portions adopted by the EU in the Electronic Commerce Directive 2000. The Copyright Directive 2001 implemented the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty in the EU.
  • Amends Title 17 Copyright Laws in the States and criminalizes the circumvention of DRM protecting copyrighted works.
  • It also criminalizes the act of circumventing of DRM or other controls regardless of  whether or not copyright is actually infringed.
  • Heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet[citation needed].

When you think of the DMCA, think MP3’s and digital music. That’s what legislators had in their heads when they wrote the law. The whole Napster fiasco had the RIAA spitting nails and they were a powerful enough lobby to get Congress to pull together modifications to copyright law that addressed pirating digital music Well, that and software, which is where the whole locked phone thing comes into play.

IMG_20130311_121205

Previously in 2006 and again in 2010, the Librarian of Congress exempted the circumvention of methods around removing the carrier lock in a cell phone’s firmware.  This lock is nothing more than software preventing the use of that phone on a competing wireless network.  As of 27-Jan-2013, it is now illegal to unlock any cellphone purchased after that date without the expressed permission of the device manufacturer, the wireless carrier, or both.

Jailbreaking a device, or removing the lock preventing sandboxing of applications is still permitted.  So, you don’t have to worry about your rooted Android phone/tablet or jailbroken iDevice violating the law. You can still do that for now.

Come back next time and I’ll dive into some of the details around what you can and cannot do, and what many – myself included – recommend you do.

next page

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View and play all of your media with AK Player

Playing media where and when you want it isn’t always easy, especially with today’s complex ecosystems and new compression algorithms. Playing Flash content while disconnected is also a problem. Adobe doesn’t make an offline player. This is why I like AK Player. It’s a cool media Player for Windows.

AK Player allows you to watch videos from your favorite internet sites, even when you aren’t connected.  This free media player can download content from your favorite media website, like YouTube, and then play it while you’re offline.  One of the reasons why it does this and does this so well is due to its dual media player engines. It plays just about everything.

The app is almost compatible with any and every file format out there.  This is important since there are so many different audio and video formats.  With AK Player all you really need is its one, dual engine player.  However, I did have trouble getting it to play iTunes compatible media, as well as DRM’ed files, although that last one wasn’t surprising.

AK-Player can play multiple files at the same time, something which really sets it apart from virtually every other media player out there. Even better is the fact that you can control the volume or mute or unmute the audio in each individual window that you have open. It has a global volume control, too. When you double click on a new media file, it will automatically open in a new window without closing down the currently open file. It plays multiple files simultaneously and organize it in a smart playlist.

AK Player is a cool app. There’s a lot to like here, especially if you like playing Flash based movies, and aren’t always connected to the internet.  The app allows you to play, as well as organize and search your hard drive for files you’ve got stored. The one thing that annoyed me a little was the fact that it wouldn’t play *.m4a files, DRM’ed or not.  However, despite that, AK Player is a decent Windows media player and is a lot of fun to use.

download AK Player

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