Judge in iTunes Antitrust Case Orders Apple CEO Steve Jobs to Answer Questions

Ailing 56-year-old Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been ordered by US Magistrate Judge Howard R. Lloyd to “answer questions” in the class-action lawsuit asserting that Apple’s iTunes represents a “music store monopoly.”

The case is Apple iPod, iTunes Antitrust Litigation, C05- 0037JW, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

According to Bloomberg, Judge Lloyd will reportedly allow “limited questioning” of Jobs, who remains on medical leave from Apple, by attorneys for the group that brought the complaint.

The deposition can’t exceed two hours and the only topic allowed is changes Apple made to its software in October 2004 that rendered digital music files engineered by RealNetworks Inc. (RNWK) inoperable with Apple’s iPod music player.

“The court finds that Jobs has unique, non-repetitive, firsthand knowledge about the issues at the center of the dispute over RealNetworks software,” Judge Lloyd wrote, effectively obligating Steve Jobs’ participation.

While Apple is certainly familiar with courtroom showdowns, Steve Jobs has rarely been directly involved in matters of litigation.

Thomas Slattery, an admittedly frustrated iTunes customer, filed suit against Apple in 2005 seeking class-action status on behalf of “consumers claiming the Cupertino, California-based company illegally limited consumer choice by linking the iPod to its iTunes music store.”

Slattery’s argument contends that Apple is violating antitrust laws by encoding its digital music files with proprietary software dubbed FairPlay. Consequently, music files downloaded from iTunes can only be played on sanctioned Apple devices, like the iPod.