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Angry consumer targets Apple for refusal to support Microsoft's WMA media format

Apple faced historic success in the year 2007, with hot iPhone sales and new iPods leading to record financial quarters and strong Leopard sales.  On the other hand the company also faced its share of lawsuits and gripes, ranging from a Greenpeace suit which called the iPhone "toxic", to the far more business-like pair of class action suits based on Apple's iBricking, whose class action group is estimated by some analysts to contain over 100,000 iPhone users.

Apple started off the new year on a similar note, scoring a minor victory by winning an iTunes content rental deal with Fox, which followed with the sour taste of another class action suit.

This time the suit centers around WMA and Apple's dominance of the MP3 player market.  Craig Briskin and Steven Skalet of Mehri & Skalet PLLC, Alreen Haeggquist of Haeggquist Law Group, and Helen Zeldes filed the suit and represent Plaintiff Stacie Somers.  The suit specifically alleges that Apple's iTunes dominance is in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

This base claim may seem ridiculous, but does have some historical precedence, with Apple rival Microsoft found to be behaving in a monopolistic manner in 1999.

The complaint includes estimations of Apple's dominance.  It alleges
that the company controls 75% of the online video market, 83% of the online music market, more than 90% of the hard-drive based music player market, and 70% of the Flash-based music player market.

It also points out that Apple is the only major MP3 player not to support WMA.  Apple previously claimed licensing this format would be too expensive, but the suit states that licensing fees would be negligible and estimates them at
$800,000, or 3 cents per iPod sold in 2005.

The complaint adds that the third party iPod component, the Portal Player System-On-A-Chip, and the iPod Shuffle third party component, the
SigmalTel STMP3550, are both capable of playing WMA files but that Apple intentionally cripples this ability with software.  The complaint states, "Deliberately disabling a desirable feature of a computer product is known as 'crippling' a product, and software that does this is known as 'crippleware.' "

Somers is quick to point out Apple used its position of dominance to set a standard of high price markets for higher capacity players.  A 4 GB NAND module costs only $5.52 more than a 1 GB module, but the iPod Nano, with no other additional component differences, costs $100 more for the 4 GB version.

The suit cites complaints from the European Union about the monopolistic nature of Apple's iPod and iTunes infrastructure as supporting evidence.




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