Real Networks announced a couple of days ago that they had ‘figured out’ Apple’s FairPlay DRM technology, and that future versions of RealPlayer would include ‘Harmony’, a technology to allow songs purchased from Real.com to be played on the iPod.
This naturally got Apple’s attention, and their lawyers arched their backs and hissed at Real today in response.
We are stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod(R), and we are investigating the implications of
their actions under the DMCA 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.
It seems that if Harmony truly does what Real says, and encodes files in a way that emulates FairPlay, Apple will have an awfully hard time coming out with an update that breaks Harmony but not iTunes. They would essentially have to release a new iTunes with a modified DRM scheme, then upgrade the firmware of the iPod when it plugged in.
But that means that the iPod would not work with older versions of iTunes, perhaps on other computers. It would also mean that the songs on the iPod would need to be transcoded to the new DRM, which is an awfully long process on 40GB of music, even with FireWire. The customer inconvenience and backlash would be intense, especially from a product that’s always “just worked”.
I think they’d take a lesser hit from just letting Real continue, given that RealPlayers’ music sales system is pretty widely vilified.