iPod Antitrust Lawsuit Says Apple Deleted Rival's Music

The class action lawsuit accusing Apple of antitrust violations for locking the iPod to the iTunes Store is claiming the company intentionally deleted competitor's music from the media player and didn't tell users. Apple's response: it was a necessary security measure.

Class action lawsuit says Apple deleted rival's music from iPodsClass action lawsuit says Apple deleted rival's music from iPods

iPod owners could load music from the iTunes Store, or from their own CDs, but music from other services, such as Rhapsody, would trigger an alert telling users they needed to restore their device. The restore process would remove songs from competing services, but there wasn't any warning about the lost music.

Apple security director Augustin Farrugia testified that the dialogs were intentionally vague. "We don't need to give users too much information," he said. "We don't want to confuse users."

The reasoning behind deleting unapproved songs, he added, was over security concerns. Getting the songs onto an iPod involved various workarounds — some of which users might not have even been aware of — and that posed a big security problem.

"The system was totally hacked," Mr. Farrugia said, adding that Apple was "very paranoid" about iTunes security.

Patrick Coughlin, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, didn't agree with Mr. Farrugia's interpretation. "You guys decided to give [users] the worst possible experience and blow up," he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The lawsuit started in 2005 over complaints that Apple refused to open its FairPlay copy protection scheme to other companies. Apple used FairPlay as a digital rights management system to keep people from stealing music as part of its licensing contract with record labels.

Apple didn't want to use copy protection, and even went so far as to publicly say so. The company was obligated to maintain FairPlay and release updates whenever hackers found new workarounds, and routinely released software updates to block the latest hacks.

The plaintiffs contend that by refusing to open FairPlay to other music services, Apple was blocking competitors from entering into the market.

Apple's iPod was hugely successful in the portable media player market, but it was hardly the only option for consumers. Other companies failed to match Apple's overall iPod and iTunes experience, and the plaintiffs in this case claim that's because the iPod was a closed system.

Plaintiffs in the case are seeking US$350 million in damages. Video testimony from former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was recorded several months before his death and has been played at the trial. Testimony from other Apple executives will be coming over the next few days.

Apple was finally able to convince record labels that DRM wasn't needed and started selling songs without copy protection. Songs customers had already purchased were to non-copy protected versions.

The fact that iPod updates intentionally deleted music will no doubt be a big part of the case against Apple. The question now is whether or not the court will see the move as a legit security move, or a strategy to keep competitors out of the market.