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DVD Jon to play fair with Apple's DRM?

Famous for his reverse engineering, an author of the DeCSS content de-scrambling software "DVD Jon" is playing a slightly different tune now. Rather than working against DRM as he has been known to do, he is now apparently experimenting with the idea of using DRM to his and supposedly customers advantage. He has reverse engineered Apple FairPlay, a DRM technology which makes sure that only Apple's files can play on an iPod, and instead of offering it to the public as it was his usual practice before, he is offering to license it to would be Apple competitors so that they can make their files play on an iPod.

Sounds like a noble kind of business. Or does it? Alex Curtis from Public Knowledge apparently agrees. He believes it is good thing because it is a chance to open up more competition to iTunes. It would make it possible for people to order music not only from iTunes, but some other alternative stores to play on their iPods. However, I would hesitate to give it my blessing just yet. One thing that seems to be overlooked is the fact that this could actually help *increase* the popularity of iPods which is an Apple product and potentially even contribute to its monopoly over portable music players even if temporarily cutting the monopoly on iPod compatible music stores. Curtis suggested that what DVD Jon is doing is not illegal as others have done it under the reverse engineering / interoperability provisions of the DMCA. I have to be suspicious in that regard. As one commentator on gigaom put it; "If the Apple patent lawyers did their job right, they would have covered any and every reverse engineering angle.." There is no guarantee that Apple wont at least *try* to litigate against him or companies deploying his DRM and maybe even succeed. What would be the end result of that? An increased popularity of iPods and still not much competition in the field of iPod compatible music stores.

The bottom line is that the whole deal sounds like a compromise to DRM rather than fighting it altogether. It might look like using DRM against itself, but that is not what it is. Copyleft is about using the copyright law to give freedoms instead of restricting them. I am not sure there is space for such a thing within the realm of DRM. It wouldn't make sense as DRM is about restrictions afterall. If you want to preserve certain rights you don't need DRM for that. It is in fact mandatory that you don't deploy it at all.

What DVD Jon is offering is a way for developing potential competitors to Apple's iTunes in the space of iPod compatible music stores, but if these new music stores employ their own kinds of DRM restrictions on tracks that they sell (and you just need to think of Zune's "three days/three plays" to see some dreadful examples of that) what we've got is nothing but "choice of masters" as Richard Stallman would put it. Whichever store you buy from, tracks are never really yours and you are never really their master as you should rightfully be since, afterall, you payed for it and the iPod that you downloaded them to.

Maybe the technology Jon is licensing can be used to simply provide unprotected (no DRM) tracks that will play on iPods. If someone does and Apple doesn't smite it, then that would probably be a good thing. However, as things stand this seems rather unlikely. Maybe it would have been better to just release his work to the public and/or find better business models as some have suggested, some that don't include compromising with DRM just to potentially end up nowhere. He could have done much more against DRM if he didn't try to play fair with it. Is such a thing even possible?

Well, let the debate Alex Curtis mentioned, begin. ;)

Thank you
Danijel Orsolic
Libervis Network


It seems to me that Jon has

It seems to me that Jon has found a way of getting around DRM, and with this knowledge he's using it so that others can use the same DRM. The affect of this is to spread DRM, which is a detriment to our freedom.

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