An iTunes Music Store customer is suing Apple for anticompetitive behaviour, arguing that music purchased from the store obliges him to use Apple's iPod. That much at least is true, but Thomas Slattery, who filed the lawsuit in a California District Court this week faces a difficult task convincing the court of its merits.
Slattery's case alleges that "Apple has turned an open and interactive standard into an artifice that prevents consumers from using the portable hard drive digital music player of their choice." He claims that he was "forced" to buy an iPod to hear the music he'd bought from the iTunes Music Store.
Apple only sells music with its own DRM wrapper, while the iPod won't play music in Microsoft's WMA format, or Real's DRM wrapper used by much of the rest of the online stores. Apple has licensed the iPod to HP, which rebadges some models, and agreed to license the DRM wrapper to Motorola. Apple has blocked a workaround which prevented music from Real's Rhapsody store being played on the iPod.
While Apple's market share is considerable in two markets, for digital jukeboxes and music downloads, both markets are in their infancy. Using Sherman Act successfully means first proving that Apple is first a monopoly, then that it abused that dominant position in a way that suppressed competition to the detriment of consumers.
Slattery isn't the first to make the point. Microsoft, itself a convicted monopolist, has argued that Apple's monopoly is too restrictive.
However, if the case reaches court, Apple is likely to argue that iTunes doesn't forclose other distribution channels. No one expects online music downloads to eclipse other music distribution channels soon, with predictions suggesting that it will at best take a single digit share of the music market by the end of the decade (with, ironically enough, the lockdown, low quality music files only spurring customers to buy more CDs). By which time a more sensible framework may well have made today's disputes redundant. ®
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