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Apple blasts Real DRM translator

Investigating Harmony's 'legal implications'

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Apple today described itself as "stunned" that Real Networks has dared to reverse engineer its FairPlay DRM system in order that Real's online music subscription service can be made compatible with the iPod.

Real launched its Harmony Technology earlier this week. The software essentially converts songs protected by Real's Helix DRM system into tracks guarded by FairPlay or Microsoft's Windows Media DRM mechanism.

Since the iPod doesn't support Helix, Harmony allows Real customers to download songs that can, after conversion, be played on the iPod.

Apple, however, said Real had "adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker" in the development of Harmony. "We are investigating the implications of [Real's] actions under the DMCA and other laws," it said.

Real maintains there is no illegality since Harmony doesn't bypass either its own or Apple's DRM rules - it simply translates one set of rule formulations into the another.

Reverse engineering is a legal activity, but Apple could yet claim that Real used proprietary information for which it did not have a licence to help it in that endeavour. It may also allege that the process has violated its own copyrights.

Whatever legal course Apple may or may not take, it certainly warned that it may change FairPlay and break Harmony. "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," Apple said. ®

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