An antitrust case against Apple went to court Wednesday, but it was from so long ago that Steve Jobs had to come back from the grave to testify.
From 2007 to 2009, Apple allegedly deleted music tracks from some owners of iPods when the music was downloaded from competing music stores. If Apple violated the antitrust laws that keep the market open to competition, the company could owe $350 million to cover damages to over eight million Apple customers.
“Apple” and “start-up company” are two terms that do not seem to fit together, as its ascension from start-up to giant came quickly after the company’s entrance into the personal music entertainment industry. And when you have a company growing that fast, it’s impossible not to step on some toes in the race.
I’m going to ask you to think back to middle school. Now, bear with me, and think for a moment on the music devices being passed around in the playground.
The iPod Classic is the first that comes to my mind, a dinosaur of the digital media age, but at the time it was one of the coolest gadgets to have. But in the same picture there is another device, a little fuzzy in electronic history, but at the time it romped in the same playground: Microsoft’s Zune.
Now let’s bring it back to today. The case in question is arguing that Zune and other devices like it would have a competing shot without Apple’s actions.
Allegedly, Apple gave itself an edge when songs from providers other than iTunes were flagged, and iPod owners were told they needed a factory reset.
But a factory reset is designed to get rid of viruses, and what every other music source was marketing were not viruses, but other MP3 files. Jobs himself admitted that Apple wasn’t facing any present threat, but rather was concerned the other sources wouldn’t be compatible in the future.
iTunes is both a collector and seller of music files, but by only allowing their files, they could raise their prices. And now, in the early foot race to become an electronic giant, competitors are saying Apple cheated the competition, which is illegal under antitrust laws.
“We were the only big company involved in this stuff at the time, the one with the deepest pockets,” said Jobs in his video testimony. This piece of evidence lent itself to the idea of Apple as a monopoly, an image which the company was working to tamper in the courtroom.
The most disturbing piece of the testimony was when Apple’s security director stated the reason the company didn’t disclose their motives to listeners was because they “don’t need to give too much information to users,” and they “didn’t want to confuse users.”
I had an iPod Classic, and I remember feeling disappointed when songs were flagged, but at that point I was reliant on iTunes and locked into the brand.
On the other hand, the streamline nature of Apple products is part of why they became so popular; there was brand recognition, and a user with a new iProduct became instantly cool. And with the river of tears of happiness from users with their first Shuffle or iTouch ran across the schoolyard, the name Zune, once left in the dust, became as good as mud.
It is dismaying to think that if that one security measure from Apple didn’t happen, we could all be carrying around Zune 6.0s by now.
In a free and competitive market, Apple should not delete competitors audio files from users’ products. An MP3 file is an MP3 file, and once upon a time Apple made a lot of money by saying where their users could download from.
Collegian Columnist Sierra Cymes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.