Every so often, it seems that someone needs to be reminded that it is not illegal to have a monopoly, only to use the power of that monopoly to impede competition. We all want to see the little guy succeed and compete effectively, forcing its competitors to react and improve. The underdog, however, does not get a free pass to overstep its legal bounds, simply because they’re up against harsh odds.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about Palm’s hack that allows them to sync with iTunes. Apple released an update to iTunes, which closed that hacking method. Now, Palm has updated the Prē to use a lower-level hack, restoring iTunes sync capability. Apple will soon respond in kind, and they have every legal right to do so. They would, in fact, be derelict in their duties if they did not.
At the same time, Palm has built upon consumers’ misplaced sympathies by complaining to the USB governing body that Apple is using its Vendor ID unfairly to limit access to iTunes. A lot of people like to scream that these actions are like “the ‘Man’ keeping Palm down,” which is an unfair assessment; Apple has done nothing to keep Palm from reaping the rewards of their own efforts, and Apple is certainly not obligated to share any of their own success with Palm.
Palm has created an iPhone alternative, the first new smartphone to really compete on level ground with the iPhone. Apple has done nothing to prevent this, nor has it made any specious claims to deter people from buying the Prē. And now, having done that so successfully, Palm is equally free to create their own media player and sync software solution which integrates seamlessly with the Prē. Apple would not want to stand in their way, and they are legally prevented from doing so.
Palm is NOT, however, free to force Apple to allow their device to sync with iTunes. They are violating several licenses and agreements with their actions, and they haven’t a legal leg on which to stand. A few points:
- Apple owns their USB vendor ID. It is prohibited for Palm to use Apple’s ID at all, let alone in the fraudulent way in which it is using it.
- Apple owns iTunes. They are free to set the license for its use, and to restrict its connectivity to a selected set of devices manufactured by themselves and by their partners.
- Customers are free to vote with their dollars. If Apple’s restrictions impact the consumer negatively, buyers will take their business elsewhere.
And the final nail in the coffin of Palm’s legal chances: Apple is probably open to the idea of the Prē syncing with iTunes! Oh, but make no mistake… Palm would to have to pay (whether monetarily, through a partnership, or with some other concession) a fair price for the privilege of integrating with iTunes and benefiting from Apple’s hard work.
There is no legal quandary here. If Palm wants into iTunes, they need to pay up. Otherwise, they need to STFD and STFU before something bad happens to them.