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History of the Apple iPod Antitrust Case

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Apple has had a long history in court, with some cases, such as the iPod and iTunes antitrust case, spanning almost an entire decade.

Because of the long time-span of the case, it can be a little difficult to remember exactly what happened. Here is a history of the Apple iPod and iTunes antitrust case.

The class-action lawsuit was first filed in 2005, with claims that Apple was violating antitrust laws by creating a music-downloading monopoly. It supposedly was creating the monopoly by changing software design to the FairPlay encoding, which was a proprietary digital rights management technology that added an encrypted audio stream to MP4 files. The move meant that music downloaded from other vendors was not compatible with the iPod.

The change in software came just five days after RealNetworks released its own Harmony technology, which made music downloaded using RealNetworks compatible with the iPod. Apple, however, considered this technology a hack, and changed its software to circumvent this hack.

Essentially, the plaintiff's argument was that Apple had a responsibility to allow competitors' music to play on its music playing devices and in other products such as iTunes.

While the claim that Apple changed its FairPlay DRM technology and refused to license it to other companies was dismissed in 2009, another issue took over from it, suggesting that Apple implemented a software update to iPods released after 2006 that meant that these devices shut down when they detected music not bought from iTunes. The specific iTunes software, iTunes 7, was released in 2006, with iPods in question being released in 2006. The issue could only be fixed if a user erased all content from the iPod. Apple, however, said that it had received no complaints of this and that there was no evidence that iPods were doing this.

Hundreds of retailers were also a part of the class-action lawsuit, including Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

In Steve Jobs' mind, revisions to the software were built essentially to keep out hackers, saying that Apple would constantly change the software of both iTunes and iPods. Another concern for Jobs was that Apple had made a number of deals with record labels and that Apple had to protect against illegally downloaded music to retain these deals.

The case was once again revised starting in December 2014. Soon after the beginning of the trial it was found that neither of the two plaintiffs representing the class had bought iPods during the specific time periods, resulting in them both being dismissed. A replacement was found in Barbara Bennett, but the case, which would have resulted in fines of $350 million that triple under antitrust laws, found Apple not guilty.

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