updated 09:35 am EDT, Tue March 22, 2011
Dispute over blocking Real files from iPods
A federal magistrate judge, Howard R. Lloyd, has ordered Apple CEO Steve Jobs to answer questions in a long-running antitrust dispute over the iPod and RealNetworks audio files, says Bloomberg. "The court finds that Jobs has unique, non-repetitive, firsthand knowledge about the issues at the center of the dispute over RealNetworks software," Lloyd's judgment reads. Jobs is expected to undergo a deposition, although it is not allowed to last more than two hours or stray from the topic at the heart of the case.
In July 2004, Real announced plans to sell music files compatible with the iPod through a platform called Harmony. By October 2004, Apple made software changes which suddenly prevented Real tracks from playing on iPods. The antitrust allegations stem from a 2005 lawsuit by iTunes customer Thomas Slattery, who argues that Apple illegally limited the public's choice by linking the iPod to the iTunes Music Store; while Apple's now-abandoned FairPlay copy protection prevented iTunes downloads from working on competing media players, Slattery says that it also blocked music from third-party stores from working on iPods. Such discrimination could be seen as arbitrary given that iPods have always been capable of playing music associated with no store at all.
Lloyd's ruling states that Jobs will not have to answer questions about Apple imposing FairPlay on its music, or refusing to license FairPlay to other companies. Both of these were excluded from litigation in a December 2009 decision by another judge. Jobs will, however, have to explain the October 2004 changes that interfered with the iPod's ability to play Real files.
An Apple spokeswoman has refused to comment on the current situation. In December, though, Apple's legal team actively fought the prospect of a deposition. Attorney David Kiernan argued that "any deposition of Mr. Jobs would be repetitive, at best."