So, Apple and RealNetworks are not in real harmony, who would have guessed? Real Networks came out recently with a DRM translator named Harmony, which can transcribe RealNetworks' DRM format to a variety of other DRM formats such as Apple's FairPlay so that music bought on the RealPlayer Music Store can be played on different devices such as the iPod.

Apple said that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod, announced their intention to investigate a legal challenge over the DMCA and other laws, and lastly warned that when they change the iPods firmware Real's Harmony technology is likely to break.

RealNetworks dismissed the legal threat, arguing that reverse-engineering is legal and that they're bringing more choices to owners of portable music devices. They also questioned quite ironically whether "Apple is complaining we're helping them sell more iPods?" They have a point here, as one might question where Apple makes money in this ecosystem. (Hint: I don't think it's with the iTunes Music Store.)

RealNetworks might well be right about the vacuity of the legal grounds in this affair, which explains why Apple hinted their ability to technically wreak Harmony by a firmware change.

What's important to me is that Harmony is embodying the idea that DRM protections, if they cannot be universal, should at least be portable to all popular devices so that you can buy music where you want and play it where and how you want (something, BTW, we've been able to do for decades!)

Which brings me to the conclusion that if Apple has no legal ground to stop RealNetworks and makes a technical move to prevent Harmony from working, they will anger a lot of people, notably their own customers!

What do you think?


I don't think Apple would tick off many if it blocked Harmony. In fact, very soon I don't think many people are going to care (except for the DCMA issue). 'Cause Real isn't "all that".

That's funny because I wrote this piece as a follow-up to a conversation with a friend yesterday where I told him that I wouldn't care for a second if anything turned bad for RealNetworks.

But the real point is the portability of *your* music vs. total lock-in. And this friend, as an Apple customer, is clearly pissed off by Apple's threats to modify the iPod firmware as a way to protect the existing lock-in. I must admit I'm with him on this point, regardless of what I think about RealNetworks.

I am not surprised at all by the situation. Industrials who have contacted Apple about making their product iPod-compatible got a one-word answer from Steve Jobs : "No" (not an extrapolation, I am just quoting a CEO who told me about his email, and Steve Jobs' shocking answer...) That's not the way business has to be done, I mean refusing a deal should not prevent anyone from being polite, right?

So Apple just got a reply from RealNetworks conformant to its own politeness...

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