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Real gets flamed over iPod campaign

Petition calling on Apple to open its music player to rival tunes becomes target of anti-RealNetworks brickbats.

RealNetworks has stepped up its music "war" on Apple Computer--with results it clearly didn't expect.

Hostilities started in late July, when RealNetworks cracked Apple's FairPlay code, meaning songs bought from the RealPlayer Music Store could be played on the iPod--a move that went down very badly over at Apple. RealNetworks then decided to ratchet up the pressure by slashing the cost of its downloads to below the 99-cent price barrier favored by Apple.

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RealNetworks' reverse-
engineering of Apple's
music player puts two tech
passions at loggerheads.

The next step--a campaign and petition to get music fans to support the company's open stance--hasn't worked out quite as it might have hoped, after some people besieged the petition with obscenities and anti-RealNetworks postings.

The petition, on RealNetworks' www.freedomofmusicchoice.org site, is titled: "Hey Apple! Don't break my iPod."

"Your company has long stood for innovation and open competition," the petition reads. "We're asking that you...support the right of your own customers to make their own choices about where they buy music for the iPod. We want Freedom of Music Choice! Don't lock us in to purchasing digital music from one source. That's bad for competition. It will stifle innovation. And it will slow the adoption of digital music devices like the iPod."

Readers were encouraged to sign up and leave comments on the petition, now running at more than 900 signatures. However, many comments left by petition signers were less than complimentary and featured a selection of tartly worded phrases and four-letter epithets, with the target being RealNetworks itself. CEO Rob Glaser came under particular attack from the Web site's visitors.

Visitors--some of whom identified themselves as "Michael Jackson," "The Pope" and "Bill Clinton"--expressed the view that they already have freedom of choice and would be exercising it by using Apple's iTunes music service.

One poster, Rich Mertz, wrote: "You people are wrong, wrong, wrong. If we wanted 'choices' like yours, they wouldn't have to be foisted on us. Most of us, given a real choice, would rather see you and your tactics go away. 'Competition' doesn't give you any right to reverse-engineer when you feel like it, but come down on those that hack into your IP rights. It's theft, pure and simple."

Others took issue with the fact that RealNetworks' Rhapsody song shop doesn't support Macs. A poster by the name of MacUser wrote: "I choose to use a Macintosh. Why won't Real support me? Rhapsody doesn't work on the Mac. So even if I was interested in buying music from Real, I can't do it."

RealNetworks' stock price appeared to react badly to the price-cutting and free music campaign, with shares dropping 20 cents to close at $5 on Tuesday.

Some people, however, did support the campaign. Juan Noyles wrote: "Stop being so stingy, Jobs!" Another poster, going by first name "Jason" only, added: "I've got to give this particular move a thumbs-up. Proprietary file formats are never good for customers...Anything that opens up competition in the market can't help but be good, even if it comes from a P.O.S. developer like Real."

The deluge of anti-RealNetworks sentiment prompted the company to take down the original petition and replace it with one without a comment section, but where the names of those who signed up were visible. Most signed up as 'Real sucks' or something similar. The ability to see names was then removed.

People can still post comments on the issue via the freedomofmusicchoice.org Web site, once they register with the site. Similar anti-RealNetworks tirades are already appearing there, complete with intermittent swearing.

RealNetworks isn't the first company to criticize Apple over its stance on digital rights management. Virgin Mega recently took issue with the iPod, saying its proprietary stance was anticompetitive.

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.