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Friday, December 17, 2004  

Technology: Apple evicts Real from iPod Photo

As you may know, RealNetworks created software that allowed owners of Windows programmed iPods to download music from its RealPlayer Music Store , a competitor with Apple's iTunes Music Store, a few months ago. Apple refuses to open the iPod to other sellers of digital music, using its proprietary software to prevent them from competing with iTMS. Back in July, when Real announced its fait accompli, I wondered how long it would take Apple to lock Real out of the iPod, again. CNet reports that Real downloads will not play on the new iPod Photo.

Apple Computer has quietly updated its iPod software so that songs purchased from RealNetworks' online music store will no longer play on some of the Mac maker's popular MP3 players.

The move could render tunes purchased by many iPod owners unplayable on their music players. For the last four months, RealNetworks has marketed its music store as the only Apple rival compatible with the iPod, following the company's discovery of a way to let its customers play their downloaded tunes on Apple's MP3 player.

Apple criticized RealNetworks' workaround, dubbed Harmony, as the "tactics. . .of a hacker ," and warned in July that RealNetworks-purchased songs would likely "cease to work with current and future iPods." Apple offered no further statement Tuesday, but confirmed that the software released with its iPod Photo will not play music purchased from RealNetworks' music store.

Rob Glaser, Real's CEO, has argued that Apple should allow music from other distributors to be played on the iPod to best serve consumers, and, to encourage the spread of downloading digital music. However, Real Networks' does not support the Macintosh in most ways, including music downloads.

Real claims to have sold three million songs during a 49-cent sale in August. Real's songs could be purchased for half the price of those at iTMS. The promotion targeted users of Windows-compatible iPods.

Apple's argument is that it has a duty to control access to the iPod under its Digital Rights Management agreements with the music industry. It uses its DRM software, Fairplay, to do so. Competitor Microsoft also has proprietary DRM software for its Windows Media Player. As does Real for RealPlayer and parts of its subscription service.

What is DRM?

A system for protecting the copyrights of data circulated via the Internet or other digital media by enabling secure distribution and/or disabling illegal distribution of the data. Typically, a DRM system protects intellectual property by either encrypting the data so that it can only be accessed by authorized users or marking the content with a digital watermark or similar method so that the content cannot be freely distributed.

Hardware and software manufacturers also use their DRM as a way to stake a claim on territory. Incompatibility results in consumers not being able to combine hardware and products from different companies. Though Apple's tight grip on what music can be played on the iPod is the most discussed example of the exclusionary use of DRM, the practice pervades high tech industry.

It is unclear whether the update of the iPod's firmware or software that made Real downloads unusable on the iPod Photo also renders them useless on other models of the iPod. The change may be to the newest model of the iPod only. But, future upgrades could include earlier models, effectively evicting Real from the house that Apple built.

Apple's iPod has captured about 70 percent of the market for high quality MP3 players. It is said to be the most sought after high tech device this Christmas season. Internet giant Amazon has sold out of some models, as have other online and offline retailers. Best Buy has shifted its iPod supply to its brick and mortar stores. The Boston Globe reports Apple expects to sell two million iPods this quarter.

1:25 PM