DETROIT (CN) - A monopoly on prison MP3 players allows SanDisk to charge double for its devices and forces inmates to unlock their music once they're released, according to a class action complaint.
The lawsuit says the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) signed an agreement in 2012 that made SanDisk Corp. and Advanced Technologies Group LLC the exclusive providers of "prison-restricted" MP3 players.
SanDisk and ATG are the only defendants named in the complaint. The five plaintiffs are all former prison inmates.
The Sansa Clip+, manufactured by SanDisk, is the only MP3 player available to inmates, according to the lawsuit.
"Inmates pay a substantially higher price for SanDisk's Sansa Clip+ than the retail price outside of prison - approximately double (or more)," the Feb. 2 complaint states. "ATG sells the SanDisk prison-restricted MP3 player to inmates at a cost of approximately $70 to $90 (depending on the BOP facility)."
With songs that cost between $0.80 and $1.80, inmates can spend anywhere from "$1,200 and $2,700 on music to download the maximum capacity of songs" on the Sansa Clip+, the lawsuit alleges.
Once released from prison, however, former inmates say they cannot transfer their purchases to another MP3 player.
"Unlike members of the general public seeking to purchase an MP3 player, [released inmates] are subject to a distinct disadvantage: unless they purchase post-release MP3 players from ATG, they will not have access to any of the songs or other audio files that they purchased during their incarceration - songs or other audio files they previously paid for in amounts that could total as much as $2,700," the complaint states.
Proposed class members claim they were never told about having to purchase a "post-release" MP3 player, which costs $110 and is also manufactured by SanDisk.
ATG also coerces released inmates into buying the post-release player by limiting the time period that they can recover their music collection to one year after they get out, the former prisoners say.
"ATG's message to released purchasers is clear: purchase your SanDisk post-release MP3 player from ATG, and do it quickly, or lose your entire purchased music collection, which could be as much as $2,700 - far more than the approximate cost of the ATG/SanDisk post-release MP3 player itself," the 74-page lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs - W. Curtis Shain, Scott Irwin, Robert Spillman, Cedric Myles and Anthony Calabro - seek punitive damages for violations of the Sherman Act, conversion, unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy.
"ATG's willful and unlawful exercise of its monopoly power over the market for post-release MP3 players has excluded all suppliers of MP3 players, other than ATG, from sales of post-release MP3 players to released purchasers," according to the complaint.
The former inmates are represented by E. Powell Miller in Rochester, Mich.