Hacker’s Delight: Opening up iPod
It has been no small frustration to the portable audio community, which has been trailing sadly behind iPod for some time now, that Apple’s proprietary technology does not allow files downloaded from the iTunes music service (or files burned in iTunes AAC format) to play back on other MP3 players, or allow files from other music services to be played on iPod. Perhaps worse is the fact that the general public has not appeared to show any care or concern over Apple’s extremely closed-door policy.
There are some in public for whom this does not sit well. There have been some staged consumer protests over it, and Microsoft has tried to make an issue of it with its somewhat limp “Plays for Sure” logo campaign. But now some serious guns have been drawn. Jon Lech Johansen, a 22-year-old who made headlines several years ago for cracking the DVD copy protection scheme used by Hollywood and then again in 2003 for cracking Apple’s iTunes DRM, is now claiming he has reverse engineered Apple’s Fairplay technology to create his own that will allow non-iTunes copy-protected content to be played back on iPod.
But instead of putting his technology out freely on the web for hackers to drool over, his new company, DoubleTwist Ventures (whose only Web presence is a home page and one e-mail address) wants to sell content companies the technology so that they can have their music or other content play on Apple’s unstoppable iPod. Apple hasn’t commented yet on the news, and Johansen and his lawyers told CNN that they think they are on safe legal ground. Still legal experts say that reverse engineering hasn’t been fully tested in the courts. We could see another legal battle yet.