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Saturday, July 31, 2004  

Technology: Apple opposes iPod downloads via Real

Apple Computer has responded to Real Networks announcement that it will implement a program, Harmony, that will allow users of iPods to download music from Real. Until now, only music downloaded from Apple's iTunes Music Store was compatible with the iPod. Other commercial sources of MP3s were locked out. Apple is not pleased that Real has created a skeleton key. Its response is explicitly hostile.

We are stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod, and we are investigating the implications of their actions under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and other laws. We strongly caution Real and their customers that when we update our iPod software from time to time it is highly likely that Real's Harmony technology will cease to work with current and future iPods."

Real's defense is that Harmony does not violate the DMCA because it allows interoperatibility without negating copyright protection for music producers.

The situation could produce some interesting interpretations of the law. It clearly puts the question: Who is eligible for protection under the DMCA -- producers of creative content or purveyors of that content? I would expect Apple to argue that there isn't necessarily a disjunction between the two roles. Though it is not the producer of the actual content, it did develop the mechanism that allows that content to be sold within the constraints of the DMCA. But, Real's assertion that the rights of producers are what the DMCA intends to protect seems convincing to me. There doesn't appear to be any potential for loss by music producers because of the implementation of Harmony. Sure, some iTMS users might migrate to Real. But, music producers are free to sell their products to different online music sites. Any potential loss of revenue would impact iTMS, not music producers. Ironically, freeing the iPod from iTMS might not be detrimental to Apple either, since it would give users the option of buying music available at Real, but not iTMS. That freedom would be another reason to purchase an iPod.

From a consumer's perspective, the worst case scenario would be Apple damaging accessibilty to the iPod in efforts to thwart Real. Veteran iPod users employ a plethora of third-party freeware and shareware to enhance their experience with the device and iTunes. It isn't hard to imagine those programs failing as Apple changes its software to confuse Real. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

This disagreement is one I will be keeping my consumer and legal eyes on.

Real downloads with Harmony are up and running -- for Windows users. The Real site offers next to no support for Macintosh owners. (Maybe that lack or reciprocity is part of what has Apple peeved.) You can test the new Real Player 10, with Harmony, free for two-weeks. The offer seems to be worthwhile for Windows users.

Reasonably related

Visit Real here.

Discover how the conflict between Real and Apple started.

2:12 PM