Real to 'free' iPod from iTunes Music Store

Harmony tunes player into Rhapsody


Real Networks has effectively reverse engineered Apple's iTunes Music Store DRM system, FairPlay, having failed to persuade the Mac maker to license the technology.

Real will this week issue a beta release of Harmony, a Rosetta Stone for DRM, that promises to allow users to convert one copy-protection mechanism to another.

In particular, it will allow music fans to download songs from Real's own online music subscription service and play them on an iPod. The iPod's 'preferred' music format, AAC, is DRM friendly, in as much as the file structure - unlike that of MP3, say - was developed to allow the inclusion of DRM data. So Real just converts songs to AAC, then writes in DRM information based on its own policy. This can then be read by iTunes, the software used to copy music to the iPod.

Since the system does not bypass target DRM technologies, it's unlikely to fall foul of the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD) or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which forbid such intervention.

However, it could present Real with legal challenges if Apple believes its intellectual property was suborned during the development of Harmony. As yet, Apple has not commented on Harmony, and is probably waiting to see exactly what the software can do before responding.

Ditto Microsoft, since Harmony is expected to convert Real tracks into DRMed WMA-format songs.

Certainly there's no altruism behind Real's technology. In an interview with AP last week, CEO Rob Glaser said: "We are making it so that consumers can buy music once and play it anywhere."

The crucial bit is 'buy music once', and that means from Real's own Rhapsody service, fed by Listen.com, which Real acquired last year. Real's music business has been cast into the shade by ITMS, Napster and Sony Connect. iPod is the clear leader in hard drive-based portable music players, and is the key player for mind share. So Real needs iPod support much more than Apple needsReal. Few, if any, player makers have licensed Real's own formats and DRM system.

No doubt there are some iPod owners who are also ITMS customers but would prefer the all-you-can-eat monthly subscription model touted by Real. But we suspect the technology will appeal more to Real users who want to buy an iPod rather than iPod owners who want to buy from Real.

That leaves Harmony as little more than a bargaining tool with Apple and Microsoft, to be used to encourage them to license their respective DRM technologies. It's not a strong bargaining position, but it it's all you have, you've got to go for it.

In April, Glaser attempted to persuade Apple to license FairPlay, but his overtures were unsurprisingly rejected.

Harmony has a broader importance. Assuming it faces no legal challenge, Harmony paves the pay for the development of DRM conversion software from companies that have no stake in online music sales and thus can be trusted not to try and push listeners toward one particular service. If coupled with format transcoding software, that would allow consumers to buy from any service and play the results on any hardware, which is what buyers want. ®

Related stories

Real Networks 'seeks alliance' with Apple
Real and IBM form media software link
Real sues Microsoft, seeks $1bn damages
RealNetworks drops MusicNet for Listen.com Introducing the iPod London toilet guide
Kyocera offers iPod Mini-matching digicams
Consumers go crazy for MP3 players
Duke develops iPod-equipped download army


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022