from the well-it's-too-late-now dept.
The NYT reports that recent revelations that Steve Jobs was the driving force in a conspiracy to prevent competitors from poaching employees raises the question: If Steve Jobs were alive today, should he be in jail? Jobs "was a walking antitrust violation. I'm simply astounded by the risks he seemed willing to take," says Herbert Hovenkamp, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law and an expert in antitrust law. "Didn't he have lawyers advising him? You see this kind of behavior sometimes in small, private or family-run companies, but almost never in large public companies like Apple." In 2007, Jobs threatened Palm with patent litigation unless Palm agreed not to recruit Apple employees, even though Palm's then-chief executive, Edward Colligan, told him that such a plan was "likely illegal." That same year, Jobs wrote Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google at the time, "I would be extremely pleased if Google would stop doing this," referring to its efforts to recruit an Apple engineer. When Jobs learned that the Google recruiter who contacted the Apple employee would be "fired within the hour," he responded with a smiley face. "How could anyone have approved that?" says Hovenkamp. "Any competent antitrust counsel would know that's illegal. And they had to know they'd get caught eventually."
But the anti-poaching pact was hardly Jobs's only brush with the law. Jobs behavior was at the center of an e-book price-fixing conspiracy with major publishers where a federal judge ruled that "Apple played a central role in facilitating and executing that conspiracy." (Apple has appealed the decision. The publishers all settled the case.) Jobs also figured prominently in the options backdating scandal that rocked Silicon Valley eight years ago. An investigation by Apple's lawyers cleared Jobs of wrongdoing, saying he didn't understand the accounting implications but five executives of other companies went to prison for backdating options, while Jobs was never charged.
There's no way of knowing whether Jobs, had he lived and been healthy, would have faced charges, especially since he was a recidivist. Given Jobs's immense popularity, prosecutors might not have wanted to risk a trial, says Hovenkamp. Jobs probably came closest to being prosecuted in the backdating scandal, but by then he was already known to have pancreatic cancer. Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson notes that "over and over, people referred to his reality distortion field." Isaacson added, "The rules just didn't apply to him, whether he was getting a license plate that let him use handicapped parking or building products that people said weren't possible. Most of the time he was right, and he got away with it."