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Lawsuit: Apple Secretly Deleted Competitors’ Music From iPods in 2007

Lawsuit: Apple Secretly Deleted Competitors’ Music From iPods in 2007
[Photo: Flickr user Alejandro Mallea]

Apple is currently locked in a thorny legal battle. Not with Samsung. Not over the iPhone. But with a group of California lawyers and customers over potential antitrust practices with iTunes and the iPod.

Right now iTunes is a shell of its former self. But it was once the unrivaled marketplace for paid music.

On Wednesday, attorneys told a California jury that from 2007 to 2009, Apple allegedly deleted music downloaded from competing music services from iPod owners without telling them, according to the Wall Street Journal. Music from RealNetworks? Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace? All potentially zapped—perhaps even U2 albums.

“You guys decided to give them the worst possible experience and blow up” a user’s music library, attorney Patrick Coughlin said in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif.

When a user who had downloaded music from a rival service tried to sync an iPod to the user’s iTunes library, Apple would display an error message and instruct the user to restore the factory settings, Coughlin said. When the user restored the settings, the music from rival services would disappear, he said.

Apple directed the system “not to tell users the problem,” Coughlin said.

Apple stands accused of using its lofty and unique position to unfairly stifle the market, at the time owning the hardware (the iPod), the software (iTunes), and the ecosystem (iTunes’ Music Store). Until 2007, Apple locked iPod owners into its proprietary ecosystem with DRM so that customers couldn’t couldn’t play sound files on rival MP3 players—say, the Zune. Customers didn’t seem to mind, though. And this in turn spurred a spike in iPod sales, which hit 55 million in 2008.

The plaintiffs now contend that Apple forced its millions of customers to pay more for iPods than they should have. The suit itself, now a decade old, seeks $350 million in damages.CG