Apple will go to trial in Oakland, Calif. tomorrow over a decade-old class action suit alleging that the company unfairly prevented iPod users from using non-Apple music services.
Apple, the accusation goes, used a clever upgrade to the DRM software in iTunes to prevent iPod users from downloading music from Real Networks’ music store.
Real Networks. DRM. iPod. It’s all a bit of a flashback. Since DRM doesn’t exist in music any more, the result of the trial can have no impact on today’s technology.
Sure Apple could lose $350 million if it’s found guilty. That’s nothing to a company on its way to a trillion-dollar valuation. And a loss can’t even be considered a public relations hit, because the Apple of 2004 is so different than the market giant we know today.
But some prominent Apple people will show up at the trial, including Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue, who oversees iTunes today. It’s possible those big names will be there to protect the image of the late Steve Jobs.
They will have their work cut out for them.
“We will present evidence that Apple took action to block its competitors and in the process harmed competition and harmed consumers,” Bonny Sweeney, the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer told The New York Times. Some of that evidence will be Jobs’ emails.
Like this beauty from 2003, in which Jobs worries about the effect of a competing music service on the iPod. “We need to make sure that when Music Match launches their download music store they cannot use iPod,” the email reads. “Is this going to be an issue?”
The court will also see a videotaped deposition from Jobs on the anti-trust allegations and the purpose of the iTunes software upgrades at the center of the case. The video was taken just months before Jobs’ death in 2011.
In another email (released in court documents from another case), Jobs asks Google CEO Eric Schmidt to stop poaching his people. “I am told that Googles new cellphone software group is relentlessly recruiting in our iPod group,” Jobs wrote. “If this is indeed true, can you put a stop to it?”
Jobs worked without much of a filter, both in person and in digital communications, apparently.
But this was arguably the right kind of voice for Jobs and Apple in 2004. Apple was trying to battle back from near obscurity in the 1990s, and the iPod was the symbol of the Jobs vision that would lead the way.