Apple is set to go to trial in a new antitrust lawsuit, and Steve Jobs could decide the suit’s fate. The lawsuit claims Apple purposely locked down older iPods—the click wheel type from the early 2000s—so they couldn’t play music from competing services. The purpose was to force owners to only use iTunes, which was Apple’s prized pony back in the day. Apple lawyers will no doubt get paid to fight against these allegations, though a recently uncovered email from Jobs could end the case before it even begins.
In particular, Jobs mentions a new service called Music Match, which was a direct competitor to Apple’s iTunes.
“We need to make sure that when Music Match launches their download music store they cannot use iPod,” Jobs wrote in 2003 to other Apple executives. “Is this going to be an issue?”
The lawsuit, which was filed all the way back in 2005, claims Apple violated antitrust law by giving consumers no choice but to stick with the iPod.
“We will present evidence that Apple took action to block its competitors and in the process harmed competition and harmed consumers,” said Bonny Sweeney, the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer.
By now, it’s widely known that Jobs was an aggressive businessman willing to do what it takes to ensure the success of Apple products—even if that meant breaking the law. In this case, it seems clear Jobs wanted to make sure songs downloaded through Music Match couldn’t be used on the iPod, effectively giving owners no option outside of iTunes. If guilty, Apple could be on the hook for around $350 million to some 8 million iPod owners.
Apple has been involved in other lawsuits where emails sent out by Jobs have been used by prosecutors. In the company’s high-profile e-book scandal, Jobs’ words were used as proof that he wanted to fix prices; in another, Jobs is shown threatening a Palm executive to force a no-poaching agreement. The case regarding Apple’s iPod will see top Apple executives like Eddy Cue testify.
If you felt Apple unfairly locked you into owning the iPod, your day of relief may yet come. Now you’ll just have to deal with situations where Apple forces you to listen to free music.