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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Monday, October 23, 2006

Unlocking the iPod

Jon Johansen became a geek hero by breaking the DVD code. Now he's liberating iTunes - whether Apple likes it or not.

Johansen has reverse-engineered FairPlay, the encryption technology Apple uses to make the iPod a closed system. Right now, thanks to FairPlay, the songs Apple sells at its iTunes store cannot easily be played on other devices, and copy-protected songs purchased from other sites will not play on the iPod.

Johansen has written programs that get around those restrictions: one that would let other companies sell copy-protected songs that play on the iPod, and another that would let other devices play iTunes songs. Starting this fall, his new company, DoubleTwist, will license them to anyone who wants to get into the digital-music business - and doesn't mind getting hate mail from Cupertino.

"Today's reality is that there's this iTunes-iPod ecosystem that excludes everyone else from the market," says Johansen. "I don't like closed systems."

There's an obvious question: Isn't opening the iTunes system illegal? There is no obvious answer. FairPlay is not patented, most likely because the encryption algorithms it uses are in the public domain. (Apple would not comment for this story.) And Johansen says he is abiding by the letter of the law - if not, perhaps, its spirit.

To let other sites sell music that plays on the iPod, his program will "wrap" songs with code that functions much like FairPlay. "So we'll actually add copy protection," he says, whereas the DMCA prohibits removing it. Helping other devices play iTunes songs could be harder to justify legally, but he cites the DMCA clause that permits users, in some circumstances, to reverse-engineer programs to ensure "interoperability."

"The law protects copyrights," he says, "but it doesn't keep you locked into the iPod."
This is a fascinating article about a fascinating issue. A must-read.
[ Posted at 3:54 PM | Permalink ]


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