Apple was found not guilty of anticompetitive activity regarding an iPod court case that threatened the company with a $1 billion fine in damages.

The case, almost 10 years old, alleged Apple removed competition by barring other music services' songs from playing on iPods.

The California jury found the company not guilty following just a few hours of deliberation, unanimously agreeing Apple had rather used iTunes updates to deliver improvements for iPods sold during the 2006 and 2009 period in question.

"We created iPod and iTunes to give our customers the world's best way to listen to music. Every time we've updated those products -- and every Apple product over the years -- we've done it to make the user experience even better," said Apple, applauding the decision.

The lawsuit specifically involved iPods sold between September 2006 and March 2009, which were able to play songs bought on the iTunes store and those from CDs, but not those from competing digital music stores. Because of this, the accusation was that Apple forced users to download songs from iTunes to play on their iPods, and forced them to buy iPods to play their songs from iTunes.

Under certain federal antitrust laws, however, a product improvement cannot be considered anticompetitive, whether it harms competitor's products or not.

"A company has no general legal duty to assist its competitors, including by making products interoperable, licensing to competitors or sharing information to competitors," said Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the 9th District Court in Northern California.

Apple's argument was that updates to iTunes software were, in fact, product improvements, including a number of consumer-friendly features.

"This is a big sigh of relief for Apple and companies like that because it says they can build innovative ecosystems and they can keep them closed if they think that's best," said antitrust expert David Olson in an email. "They're not forced to deal with competitors if they don't want to so it really allows some freedom in their approach and their design in technological ecosystems."

The case has certainly had ups and downs, and evolved since it first began. Just this month it was found that the two plaintiffs originally named in the class-action lawsuit did not buy iPods in the appropriate time period, removing them from the trial.

It is expected the new plaintiffs will appeal the decision, according to Patrick Coughlin, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

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