Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Apple recently has been sued by a number of plaintiffs, each of whom want to make the suit class action, and argue that the company restricts consumers from choosing to use music the way the consumer wishes to use music. The iPhone, if you remember, earned lawsuits because you could only use it on AT&T's network and now another one is added to the mix in California where all these lawsuits seem to come -- I guess because the company is located there? Europe even jumped on the bandwagon awhile ago, though I haven't heard how Apple's appeal is going.

I'm uncertain how an entertainment device that is sold alongside others that offer different functionalities constitutes a monopoly. In my understanding a monopoly is when a single company owns the entire market (or a significant portion of it) so that no one else can even enter it without being shut out by the company -- not by the consumer who purchases a different player. In the instances where Apple is being sued, the consumer purchases an item they know (or should know if they'd done the research -- one person sued because he didn't understand the agreement he failed to read) works in a certain way, yet then they demand it work the way they want it to. Instead of buying the player that does what they want it to. So absurd!

While these suits don't normally win (though Microsoft was forced a long time ago to remove IE from the desktop in a move I still think is a bit absurd), their continued presence is troubling. First, it confuses access with entertainment. Monopolies actually prevent one from getting a necessary service, while choosing music is hardly that. Second, it demands that every product enable the use the consumer wants to make of it -- Apple does not prevent you from using other products, it merely offers a better product. Thus, if the consumer really wants to use a product differently, there are other options: Zune, Napster, etc. A consumer's choice to buy one product should not be construed as a requirement for that product to be compatible with every other product so long as that incompatibility is not the only option. (So, for instance, a proprietary OS that allows you to access only one browser and that browser restricts your access to certain websites, I would consider to be a monopoly and threat.) Third, the US government allows for anyone with a grievance to sue, but these days anyone with a perceived grievance sues without cause and if they loose there are few penalties. The system needs to be tweaked to either prevent such suits (which might prevent real grievances from getting through) or to weed these out more quickly. The major issue needs to be addressed, and addressed quickly and people need to somehow be discouraged from wasting the court's time.

Such an argument, though, suggests that the courts are a center for effective change and debate weighty matters rather than consumer's personal preferences. Perhaps that is not the way it should be! Think of the lawyers who would suddenly be out of work if they could not pursue such courses. Is this simply what happens when we have a lot of people who need to be gainfully employed? The system becomes more inefficient in order to support the maximum number of people...as it should?! :-)

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