Apple wins appeal of iPod hearing loss case

A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that said Apple's iPod music players do not pose an unacceptable risk to users' hearing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District affirmed a 2008 decision by a California district court to dismiss a long-running lawsuit that claimed iPods endangered users' hearing. iPods, said the original 2006 lawsuit -- which eventually boasted three plaintiffs and sought class-action status -- were defective because they could play music at unsafe volumes above 115 decibels (dB).

The district court disagreed, saying that any dangers of hearing loss from playing music too loud were "obvious" and "unavoidable." The plaintiffs then appealed.

Yesterday's appellate court ruling essentially repeated the arguments raised by the lower court. "The district court did not err," said Senior Circuit Judge David Thompson, who wrote the court's opinion. "The plaintiffs admit that the iPod has an 'ordinary purpose of listening to music,' and nothing they allege suggests iPods are unsafe for that use or defective. [Their] statements suggest only that users have the option of using an iPod in a risky manner, not that the product lacks any minimum level of quality."

Additionally, said Thompson, the plaintiffs failed to prove injury had actually occurred. "The plaintiffs do not allege the iPods failed to do anything they were designed to do nor do they allege that they, or any others, have suffered or are substantially certain to suffer inevitable hearing loss or other injury from iPod use," added the court's opinion.

iPod sound volume has been of interest to others beyond the plaintiffs. Last September, the European Commission ordered all makers of portable music players to add a default volume setting of around 80 dB, as well as a health warning to all new devices within the next two years. Before that, the EU had set a maximum volume limit of 100 dB on all portable music players sold in its member countries.

Apple already includes a warning with all iPods that reads in part, "Permanent hearing loss may occur if earphones or headphones are used at high volume."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter @gkeizer , send e-mail at or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed .

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