Apple wins lawsuit over iPod music

A jury took about three hours to decide against an antitrust lawsuit – 10 years in the making – that accused Apple of using a software update to secure a monopoly over the digital music market.

The eight-member jury in federal court here unanimously determined that Apple had, in fact, used the update of the iTunes software that it issued eight years ago to deliver genuine improvements for iPods sold between 2006 and 2009.

The verdict rendered Tuesday wrapped up a class-action antitrust suit that had been in various courts and in various forms, and even containing various accusations, before it finally went to trial in early December.

The lawsuit involved iPods sold between September 2006 and March 2009, which played songs sold in the iTunes Store, or those downloaded from CDs – not music from some competing stores. Apple was accused of violating antitrust law by using a copyright management system to lock people into buying iPods rather than cheaper alternatives.

The plaintiffs were seeking at least $350 million in damages.

Apple applauded the verdict in a statement.

“We created iPod and iTunes to give our customers the world’s best way to listen to music,” a spokeswoman said. “Every time we’ve updated those products – and every Apple product over the years – we’ve done it to make the user experience even better.”

The case handed off to the jury Monday was very different from the one it was presented when the trial opened.

Lawyers discovered that two of the plaintiffs initially named in the suit did not buy iPods in the relevant time period, so they were removed from the trial. The judge overseeing the trial appointed a new plaintiff, Barbara Bennett of Marshfield, Mass., a few hours before the case was handed to the jury on Monday. But Bennett was not given time to testify.

In their closing statements, Apple’s lawyers repeatedly pointed out that the plaintiffs’ side lacked any actual iPod customers saying they were harmed, among other arguments.

“There’s not one piece of evidence of a single individual who lost a single song, not even a complaint about it,” said William Isaacson, Apple’s lead lawyer in the case. “This is all made up at this point.”

The substance of the plaintiffs’ claims were also whittled down during the trial.

The jury was initially instructed to assess whether two versions of Apple’s iTunes software were genuine product improvements. But the judge tossed out a claim about the second iTunes version after an economist testifying for the plaintiffs, Roger Noll from Stanford University, conceded in court that he had not assessed any impact made by that version of the software.

Patrick Coughlin, a plaintiff lawyer, said that it was a very tough case and that his side was planning to appeal.

“But at least we got a chance to get in front of a jury, and that’s all you can ask,” he said in a conversation with reporters outside the courtroom.

Michael A. Carrier, a professor at Rutgers School of Law, said the verdict was no surprise because the plaintiff lawyers faced an uphill battle trying to demonstrate that Apple was not adding innovations with its iTunes software, even if blocking competitors’ songs was a side effect.

But it was a surprise, Carrier said, that the two named plaintiffs in the case did not own the right iPods, a shocking oversight for a lawsuit so long in the making.

“Frankly I find that flabbergasting, that in a universe of 8 million potential plaintiffs, the two that were selected were disqualified,” Carrier said. “That really tells you a lot about this trial.”