updated 01:48 pm EDT, Wed May 9, 2012
Traces back to Apple attempt to break Real Harmony
People who bought an iPod classic, shuffle, touch, or nano between September 12th, 2006 and March 31st, 2009 are being notified that they could participate in a pending class action lawsuit, reports say. Emails are being sent out this week referring people to ipodlawsuit.com, for extra details, even though there has been no settlement or ruling. The suit was originally filed by Thomas Slattery in 2005, based on an incident in 2004, when RealNetworks released software called Harmony.
The app allowed music from Real's online store to be transferred to an iPod, something Apple's ecosystem blocked at the time. Circumventing the restriction prompted an angry response; towards the end of the year, the company in fact updated its iPod firmware in a way that broke Harmony. Prior to then it had accused Real of using "the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break the iPod," hinting to the public that it was "highly likely" future firmware would disrupt Harmony's use.
The lawsuit accuses Apple of violating federal antitrust laws, as well as California's unfair competition law, since the company essentially mandated that the iTunes Store was the only digital storefront an iPod was compatible with. Since then, though, Apple has removed all DRM restrictions from iPods and iTunes, even if the iTunes software is usually required to sync iOS devices.
The lawsuit has progressed extremely slowly until recently. Last year, a judge overseeing the lawsuit allowed narrow questioning of then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs. This month a pair of unsuccessful settlement meetings have been held, as well as a case management conference on May 2nd. Judge James Ware has said that Apple has the right to file a motion for summary judgment if it wants to address topics yet to be brought in front of court; this would have to come after the plaintiffs finally submit an "outstanding expert" report. On May 20th, both sides will have to meet and arrange a schedule "with respect to any further disruptive motions that any party may seek to file."
People contacted about participating in the class action are by default included in the class. They must actively request to be excluded, though there are no serious obligations in remaining involved.