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Real fires back at Apple in DRM dogfight

Company is 'Compaq' to Apple's 'IBM'

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Real Networks has compared its DRM translation software, Harmony, to Compaq's cloning of the original IBM PC to rebuff Apple's claims that the technology may infringe the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

"Harmony follows in a well-established tradition of fully legal, independently developed paths to achieve compatibility," the company said in statement issued last night.

Harmony converts Real's own DRM system, Helix, into Apple's equivalent scheme, FairPlay, or Microsoft's Windows Media DRM. The company launched a beta version of the software earlier this week, and hopes it will encourage digital music buyers to choose its RealOne subscription service over rival offerings from Apple, Napster, Sony and others.

By converting audio files to Apple's favoured AAC format and translating Helix DRM rules into FairPlay, songs download from Real's service will play on an iPod while retaining the usage limitations imposed under the terms of the licences granted Real by music companies.

That annoys Apple because it wants iPod owners to buy from the iTunes Music Store (ITMS). Yesterday, Apple said it was "stunned" by Real's move and confirmed that it was investigation the legal repercussions of the Harmony launch.

In response, Real said: "Harmony technology does not remove or disable any digital rights management system. Apple has suggested that new laws such as the DMCA are relevant to this dispute. In fact, the DMCA is not designed to prevent the creation of new methods of locking content and explicitly allows the creation of interoperable software."

Apple has indicated it is looking beyond the DMCA, so it may yet allege Real used proprietary information without authorisation to develop Harmony.

The Mac maker also warned that future changes to FairPlay could cause Harmony-converted songs to break. However, Apple can't risk breaking songs downloaded from its own service.

"Consumers, and not Apple, should be the ones choosing what music goes on their iPod," said Real.

Maybe, but its Compaq-comparison remains specious. Did Compaq reverse engineer the IBM PC - or did it simply open the box, spot an off-the-shelf Intel CPU and chipset, an off-the-shelf BIOS and a Microsoft OS? IBM's use of readily available third-party parts - chosen becuase it bever really thought it would sell any personal computers and wanted to keep the cost down - is what made the IBM PC cloneable. Apple's FairPlay, by contrast, is not an off-the-shelf product. ®

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