Apple iPod Antitrust Trial Gets Under Way

It's been shuffling through the courts for a decade, a class-action suit that challenges Apple's iPod and iTunes grip on the digital song market. This week, it's time to face the music.

In a federal court trial beginning Wednesday with jury selection, Apple will try to fend off allegations that it violated antitrust laws through tech maneuvers that once restricted music downloads for iPods to its iTunes store.

While Apple abandoned the restrictions in question years ago, the stakes are still high -- damages could exceed $1 billion if antitrust violations are proven, and an adverse verdict would amount to a black eye for the company's past business practices.

Indeed, the ghost of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs will hover over the trial, as his videotaped deposition -- taken not long before his 2011 death -- will give the jury his view of the iTunes software updates at the heart of the case.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who is presiding over the trial in Oakland, determined earlier this year there is enough evidence for the class-action case to go to a jury, despite Apple's vehement arguments that there is no proof of harm to consumers or that it exerted monopoly power over the digital music market.

Apple is certainly taking the trial seriously, identifying the outcome as significant to shareholders in a recent SEC filing.

"I think it's going to be hard to prove damages," said Herbert Hovenkamp, a University of Iowa law professor. "But it's possible. It's gotten this far, and the judge has a lot of tools for getting rid of an antitrust case."

The trial amounts to a glimpse into Apple history, exploring its dramatic expansion into online music downloading through iTunes when the idea of the iPhone and iPad was still a glimmer in Jobs' eye.

The antitrust case was first filed...

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