[FoRK] Apple playing nice with others.....hmm

Tom Higgins <tomhiggins at gmail.com> on Fri Sep 14 17:19:04 PDT 2007

(If this is a true tale then even I would have to say this is even more
extra sucky of the Jobsian Apple and all his latter Day Lifestyles)

New iPods reengineered to block synching with
Boing Boing<http://www.google.com/reader/view/feed/http%3A%2F%2Fboingboing.net%2Findex.xml>by
Cory Doctorow
The latest iPods have a cryptographic "checksum" in their song databases
that prevents third-party applications from synching with the portable music
players. This means that iPods can no longer be used with operating systems
where iTunes doesn't exist -- like Linux, where gtkpod and Amarok are common
free tools used by iPod owners to load their players.

Notice that this has nothing to do with piracy -- this is about Apple
limiting the choices available to people who buy their iPod hardware. I kept
my iPod when I switched to Ubuntu Linux a year ago, and I've been using it
happily with my machine ever since (though it took me a solid week to get
all my DRMed Audible audiobooks out of iTunes -- I had to run two machines
24/7, playing hundreds of hours of audio through a program called
AudioHijack, to remove the DRM from my collection, which had cost me
thousands of dollars to build). I'd considered buying another iPod when this
one started to show its age -- it's a perfectly nice player to use, provided
you stay away from the DRM.

The new hardware limits the number of potential customers for Apple's
products, adding engineering cost to a device in order to reduce its
functionality. It's hard to understand why Apple would do this, but the most
likely explanations are that Apple wants to be sure that competitors can't
build their own players to load up iPods -- now that half of the major
labels have gone DRM free, it's conceivable that we'd get a Rhapsody or
Amazon player that automatically loaded the non-DRM tracks they sold you on
your iPod (again, note that this has nothing to do with preventing piracy --
this is about preventing competition with the iTunes Store).

It won't be the first time Apple has rejigged iTunes/iPod to lock out
competitors: back when Real built a DRM player for its own music that would
run on an iPod, Apple threatened to sue them and engineered a firmware
update to break their code (again, nothing to do with fighting piracy). This
is the soul of anti-competitiveness: Real made code that iPod owners could
use to get more legal use out of their iPods, Apple threatened to sue them
for endangering their monopoly over delivering iPod software.

This is all par for the course, of course. Businesses have taken
countermeasures to prevent competitors from interoperating with their
products for decades. Apple had to break Microsoft's file-formats to give
Numbers, Pages and Keynote the ability to read Office files -- they're
enthusiastic participants in "adversarial compatibility." Decades ago, IBM
lost a high-profile lawsuit against competitors who'd been making compatible
mainframe accessories and selling them for less than IBM, wrecking IBM's
business-model of selling cheap mainframes and charging a fortune for
accessories. The law of the land has generally been that compatibility is
legal, even if it undermines your profitability -- making a product does not
create a monopoly over everything that your customers might do with that

That was then. Now, Apple has the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on its
side, which makes it illegal to "circumvent an effective means of access
control" -- that is, to break DRM. I don't know if Apple will invoke the
DMCA against people who break this latest measure (they threatened Real with
the DMCA before) but I guarantee you that the attorneys and investors
advising potential iTunes competitors are going to be very conservative
about this. The upshot is that iPod owners and the public interest lose out,
because competitive products that expand the utility of the iPod are less
likely to come into existence, thanks to the DMCA and Apple's locking

I guess my next player won't be an iPod after all.

With the release of the new range of iPods - the new Nano, the iPod Classic
and the iPod Touch, we were expecting more of the same - a few tweaks here
and there and everything would be fine. No so.

At the very start of the database, a couple of what appear to be SHA1 hashes
have been inserted which appear to lock the iTunes database to one
particular iPod and prevent any modification of the database file. If you
try to do either of these, the hashes will not match and the iPod will
report that it contains "0 songs" when the iTunesDB would otherwise be
perfectly adequate.


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