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Monday, April 18, 2011, 07:55 pm PT (10:55 pm ET)

Apple again asks for dismissal of iTunes antitrust suit

Apple has again requested that a federal judge dismiss an antitrust lawsuit that accuses the company of unfairly limiting consumer choice by linking iPod music to its iTunes music store.

The class action lawsuit, which alleges that Apple violated federal antitrust laws and California's unfair competition law, was originally filed in January 2005. Later that year, Apple filed a motion to dismiss the case, but the request was denied.

In a recent development to the case, a judge approved last month limited questioning of Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs regarding a 2004 iTunes update from Apple that disabled a RealNetworks technology, dubbed Harmony, which enabled music purchased from Real's online music store to be transferred to an iPod.

At the time, Apple accused RealNetworks of resorting to "the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod." Later that year, Apple quietly released an iPod firmware update that disabled the workaround.

Speaking on behalf of Apple, attorney Robert Mittelstaedt defended on Monday the iPod maker's actions, asserting that the decision to block RealNetworks was intended to improve downloading quality for iTunes customers, Bloomberg reports. Mittelstaedt asked the judge to dismiss the suit, arguing against the claim that Apple's actions were anticompetitive.

“Apple’s view is that iPods work better when consumers use the iTunes jukebox rather than third party software that can cause corruption or other problems,” Mittelstaedt said at a hearing. According to the report, Apple cited 58 "consumer downloading complaints" as the rationale behind the iPod firmware update that 'broke' Harmony.

U.S. District Judge Ware asked whether Apple had conducted "scientific tests" to confirm that other companies' downloads were indeed the cause of the complaints. Mittelstaedt acknowledged that Apple had not performed such tests.

"Bonny Sweeney, a lawyer representing iTunes customers who sued, said the plaintiffs could not locate any legacy software that would allow them to conduct accurate tests," the report read. Ware responded that, given the lack of tests, the trial may come down to a "battle of experts."

Sweeney also revealed that Jobs had met with plaintiff attorneys for questioning on April 12, but declined to provide further details.

Ware will decide by May whether to approve Apple's request to dismiss the case.

Apple is also defending itself in other cases where it has been accused of creating an unfair monopoly with the iPod and iTunes. In 2008, another class action lawsuit was filed against Apple accusing the company of leveraging its FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) technology to lock out competitors.

In 2009, Apple removed DRM from iTunes music purchases, though iTunes movie and television show purchases and rentals still use FairPlay DRM.