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Gift card gamble gone awry?

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Now that all the world's injustices have been resolved, peace and harmony reign throughout the land, and the lion has lain down with the lamb, a US court has been asked to resolve the last remaining inequity still disturbing our perfected existence: Whether Apple's iTunes gift cards misrepresent the cost of an iTunes tune.

This tragic tale of mercantile perfidy began when plaintiffs Daniel and Barbara Owens bought one $15 gift card from WalMart and two $25 cards from Sam's Club in Fallon, Illinois.

According to court documents filed with the US District Court of the Southern District of Illinois, on the cards was printed "Download [dollar amount] worth of entertainment to enjoy on your Mac or Windows PC. And, of course, your iPod. Songs are 99¢ and videos start at $1.99."

However - again quoting from court docs - "On or about April 7, 2009, Defendant raised the price to purchase certain songs from its iTunes Store from $0.99 to $1.29."

But said Defendant - that would be Apple - didn't recall all of those offensive iTunes cards and replace them with newly worded ones. Nor did it "honor the pre-April 7 Agreements" and sell tunes to owners of out-of-date gift cards for 99¢. Instead, Apple charged the Owens a buck twenty-nine for the newly non-DRMed songs.

And now the Owens want those multiple 30-cent differences back. In their case, that adds up to about $15. But Dan and Barb are playing hardball: Their suit also asks the judge to elevate the matter to a class action "on behalf of all others similarly situated," an aggrieved horde "believed to number in excess of one hundred thousand individuals."

Thirty cents here, thirty cents there. It quickly adds up to some serious coin. "The amount in controversy," reads the complaint, "exceeds the sum of $5 million."

That figure, it is to be assumed, caught the attention of the Cupertinians.

It is also to be assumed that it caught the attention of the Owens's attorneys, the law firm of Onder, Shelton, O'Leary & Peterson, LLC, who bill themselves as "St. Louis Personal Injury Attorneys" and who wrote into the complaint that a judgment in their clients' favor should also recover "reasonable attorneys fees, interest and costs to the maximum extent allowed by law."

We would love to know whether Apple recognized the difference between the marketing blurb on the back of their gift cards and the new price of tunes, but simply gambled that a mass recall wouldn't be worth the time, trouble, and expense.

We'd also love to know if the iTunes Store's infrastructure has any way of telling which cards with the offending 99¢ language were activated after the April 7th price rise.

Apple, as is its wont, remains mum - but if Onder, Shelton, O'Leary & Peterson are worth their "reasonable attorneys fees," they'll ask. ®

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