Judge orders Steve Jobs to appear

March 22, 2011, 11:30 AM UTC

Apple’s CEO will have to answer questions in a six-year-old iTunes monopoly suit

Jobs at iPad 2 event. Image: Apple Inc.

In Nov. 2010, plaintiffs in the long-running “Apple iPod iTunes Anti-Trust Litigation” class-action lawsuit asked the presiding judge for permission to depose Steve Jobs. Apple’s (AAPL) lawyers promptly filed for a protective order preventing the deposition.

What happened next is a little hard to follow, since so many of the relevant court documents are either redacted or sealed. But the records show that a hearing scheduled for Jan. 18, 2011, was “continued indefinitely, without prejudice” after Jobs announced on Jan. 17 that he was taking an open-ended medical leave so he could focus on his health.

Both parties apparently agreed that Jobs was too sick to be deposed.

But on March 2, Jobs — looking surprisingly vigorous — appeared on stage to introduce the iPad 2. And on Monday, according to court documents cited by several news outlets, U.S. Magistrate Judge Howard R. Lloyd ordered Jobs to show up for his deposition. The out-of-court testimony is to last no more than two hours and plaintiff’s questions are restricted to software changes Apple allegedly made to keep digital music files engineered by RealNetworks (RNWK) from being played on an iPod.

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

Also on Fortune.com:

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]