Apple gets its due in BluWiki DMCA spat

Apple is getting a taste of its own heavy-handed medicine in a lawsuit over the right of a wiki-based forum operator to talk about non-Apple-developed iTunes integration.

Apple has benefited heavily from open-source software over the years, and it has earned a warm spot in the hearts of open-source advocates, despite its heavily proprietary stance.

With BluWiki, however, Apple appears to have gone too far.

In November 2008, as CNET's Tom Krazit wrote on Monday , Apple wrote to the BluWiki administrators to have iPodHash, an open-source program that attempts to enable iPods and iPhones to sync with music software other than Apple's iTunes, removed from the Web site. Apple argues that iPodHash violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by actively seeking to circumvent Apple's iTunes copyrights.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, begs to differ. It has launched a lawsuit against Apple, as PC World reports, and seeks a "declaratory judgment action to vindicate the free-speech interests of Internet readers and publishers," according to the EFF's complaint (PDF).

After all, this isn't really about DMCA circumvention, as the EFF's Fred von Lohmann declares. It's about a Web site's right to allow others to post information related to legal, fair use-protected actions. Frankly, it's ultimately about the right to open information, and, tangentially, about open-source software.

Von Lohmann explains:

This is the first time I've seen a company suggest that simply talking about reverse engineering violates the DMCA. All of the previous cases have been cases that involved actual successful reverse-engineered tools.

Apple, in its sometimes-rabid desire to control everything to do with its brand and technology, appears to have overstepped its legal authority in the BluWiki case. Apple argues that it's about much more than the right to have online discussions about reverse engineering, suggesting in a letter to the EFF (PDF) that the iPodHash software could be used to break Apple's FairPlay copy protection system.

I love Apple's technology. I love its brand. I could do without its heavy-handed attempts to protect technology that its own recent actions suggest is heading toward extinction, with DRM-free music now the norm on iTunes.

Apple is a great company because it makes compelling, beautiful products. It's not Apple because it beats up on administrators of discussion forums. At least, I hope not.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.



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