updated 11:00 pm EDT, Mon July 8, 2013
Man alleges added $1 charge reaped 'millions in undeserved profits'
A San Francisco man is suing Apple for formerly allowing people who rent high-definition movies even though their equipment is incapable of displaying the format -- meaning the customers who didn't understand the difference essentially got charged $1 more than they should to rent movies or other videos from the iTunes store. Apple has since corrected the issue, and now displays a warning when HD-renting customers are using standard-definition (SD) devices, but plaintiff Scott J. Weiselberg claims that while the rented movie would fall back to SD automatically, Apple kept the $1 HD premium charge.
Weiselberg gave the specific example that he owned an iPhone 3G, which does not display HD material. He rented the movie Big Daddy for $4.99 in June of 2010, and claims to have been unaware that an SD version of the movie was available for $3.99.
At the time, Apple had two buttons for movie rental choices, offering the SD or HD (which at the time meant 720p) version and displaying the price, much as the store does now. Weisenberg claims that Apple capitalized on the confusion, pocketing "millions of dollars in undeserved profits," though he does not offer any proof that anyone apart from himself accidentally rented an HD movie when they did not have equipment capable of playing it back at that resolution. While he is probably not the only person to have made the mistake, his brief offers no evidence of anyone else who had the issue.
The HD option is generally the preferred or default option for movie rentals nowadays, but at the time Apple failed to disclose to customers using older Apple devices that their machines could not play any HD content they would rent, and would fall back to the SD version. If that happened, the company did not adjusting the rental rate to reflect this, Weisenberg says. Apple may have an excuse for that claim, however, as its movie rental service has always allowed users to switch among devices -- some of which would have been capable of displaying the HD content.
Weisenberg is filing his complaint as a class-action lawsuit in Federal court, saying that Apple's policy at the time constituted "fraudulent omission" in violation of California's Unfair Competition Law. He seeks restitution, disgorgement of the allegedly ill-gotten profits, an injunction and damages for "unjust enrichment."