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On Tuesday, an eight-person jury in Oakland resolved a class action suit by finding that Apple is not liable for harming consumers, bringing a nearly decade-old suit over iPods to a conclusion, for now.
The case, which could have potentially been a $1 billion judgement, turned on whether Apple purposely changed iTunes to prevent customers from playing music purchased from other services on iPods. The jury specifically decided that Apple’s tweaks to iTunes (in 2006) were a “genuine product improvement” and they did not violate antitrust laws. The jury only needed a few hours to reach the decision.
This verdict means there are no payments for consumers that purchased an iPod between 2006 and 2009.
The verdict is an unequivocal win for Apple, which argued that its music distribution system, including iTunes, the iTunes store, and iPods, comprised an integrated system, and that it would be unexpected for music purchased from other services to work with it. The plaintiffs were arguing that Apple’s decisions were clearly anti-competitive and ultimately froze users out from their own music, even pointing out that iPods between 2007 and 2009 suggested restoring factory settings when users tried to download music from rival services.
The lawyers representing the class action had several hurdles to clear to even get to this point. They couldn’t find a ‘named plaintiff’ who would stand at trial — someone who actually bought an iPod between 2006 and 2009 — and eventually flew in an ice dancer from Boston.
Apple, for its part, wanted to win this case on the merits — that is, that Apple’s actions were justified and not anti-competitive — not on a technicality based on the plaintiffs’ inability to find an appropriate plaintiff.
While the case is a symbolic and financial win for Apple, it will not have a big effect on its day-to-day operations. None of the iPods discussed in this case are currently being sold, and it’s been a long time since people saw iTunes as the dominant digital music service.