‘FairPlay’ Emerging As Ironic Name For DRM System

By on July 29, 2004

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.



  1. Crap and piddle to Apple and iPod. What Apple is doing is actually called “monopoly”.

    They are not allowing fair competition, very similar to what the owner of the GIF patent, Unisys, has done (see: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/gif.html). Such tightwad patenting will only cause the demise of the protected protocol, rather than increasing its use. As example, as a GIMP user, I no longer work with GIFs, but rather in PNG or JPG. In addition, I’m a believer in the GPL license, and that’s how I release software (see: http://www.geocities.com/alreaud/gimp_plug-in/shapefs.html). Cuts through the legal BS, so to speak.

    Further, engineering a compatible format does not necessarily violate the DMCA unless Real actually hacked the code. Remember, it’s not Real who agrees to the reverse-engineering restrictions, it’s the consumer who bought the iPod that agrees by default or implication when they buy the iPod product. Coding that performs the same function can and does flow from different originating points and methods, and attacking that natural evolution doesn’t bode well for the future of computing. As an example, you could in theory design a format that is decodable by an LZW de-compressor that isn’t generated by an LZW compressor covered by the Unisys patent. Not that I blame Apple for their position, as they got badly burned with Windows.

    Regardless, I agree with Joe on RealPlayer! It sucks so bad that I’ve gone to WinAmp as a music player on PCs.

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