November 25, 2008, 9:31 PM — Apple's attempt to quash an effort to help the latest iPods and iPhones work with non-Apple software such as the Linux operating system is out of line, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said Tuesday.
Earlier this month, a lawyer from Apple's legal counsel, O'Melveny & Myers, managed to get an open-source project called the iPodhash pulled from Bluwiki, a free Web site used to create Wiki pages, saying the project is illegal under the terms of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
"It has come to our attention that a website you operate, www.bluwiki.com, is disseminating information designed to circumvent Apple's FairPlay digital rights management system," wrote O'Melveny & Myers representative Ian Ramage in an e-mail that was later posted to Bluwiki. "FairPlay is considered anti-circumvention technology under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA explicitly prohibits the dissemination of information that can be used to circumvent such technology."
Bluwiki's founder, Sam Odio, complied with the takedown request, but in an interview Tuesday he said that iPodhash's developer is not trying to get around Apple's copy protection. "He's not developing software to unencrypt the songs," he said. "What he's actually doing is unencrypting the database."
Here's how the EFF explained the matter in a posting to its blog Tuesday by senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann:
In September 2007, Apple introduced new software into iTunes and the iPod that runs a cryptographic operation on iTunes data, creating a special number called a checksum hash. The number is used to ensure that the iPod is talking to Apple's iTunes software, rather than other programs such as Winamp or Songbird.
The Apple checksum was quickly reverse-engineered, allowing those other music-playing applications to be used with Apple's devices. Recently, however, Apple shipped new versions of the iPhone and iPod touch that use a new crypto technique that has not been cracked. That's what the engineers were discussing on Bluwiki, von Lohmann said.
"Although it doesn't appear that the authors had yet figured out the new iTunesDB hashing mechanism, Apple's lawyers nevertheless sent a nastygram to the wiki administrator," he wrote.
Neither Apple nor O'Melveny & Myers responded to requests for comment for this story.
In an Interview, von Lohmann said Apple was using the DMCA to stifle free speech. "Apple is essentially saying here that people can't even talk about the mechanisms that Apple uses to lock in its music to the iTunes software," he said.
The checksum mechanism does not protect copyright on iTunes music; it's just supposed to confirm that the iPhone is communicating with iTunes, he added. "Nobody has ever suggested a purpose of this other than forcing iPod owners to use Apple's software," he said. "It's an anticompetitive tie-in device."
Because iTunes does not run on Linux, the iPodhash project is important to the Linux community, Odio said.
Founded in 2004, Bluwiki is a side project for Odio, an Internet entrepreneur who said he supports the iPodhash project even though he's not involved with it.
Bluwiki is used by a variety of projects. It serves as a meeting place for video game enthusiasts and hosts tips and tricks info for a Facebook game called Pack Rat. The site gets about a million page views per month and is supported by donations, Odio said.
He hopes to be able to put the iPodhash project back on the site. "I regret having to do this," he said. "I may be able to put the site back on-line, but quite honestly it's unlikely because I can't afford a legal battle with Apple."